- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s closest international border is the Canadian one, almost 300 miles to the north. About 11 percent of the 1 million people who live here were born in another country, and according to estimates, a third or fewer of those people are in the country illegally.

But Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said illegal immigration has become such a problem — and has cost the state so much money when it is grappling with a $568 million budget deficit — that last month, he signed an executive order directing state police to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Since then, church leaders and some of Mr. Carcieri’s own advisers have urged him to rescind it or said it was creating a climate of fear among all minorities. Angry protesters stormed the office of Mr. Carcieri’s top policy aide. Local police departments are divided, with some saying they will enforce the order and the chief in Providence saying it’s destructive to the bonds of trust officers have built with communities.

“It’s very difficult to think about what drove the governor to do this. I’m amazed,” said Jaime Aguayo, a member of the governor’s own Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, which the governor, a Republican, did not consult before signing the order. Some members have threatened to quit in protest.

Mr. Carcieri’s office has not studied whether the measure would save or cost the state money, although the governor said he believes the cost will be minimal. In Prince William County, Va., where police began enforcing immigration laws last month, the price tag has risen to an estimated $6.9 million in the coming budget year. That cost includes a higher-than-expected amount to pay for overcrowding at the county jail as a result of the crackdown.

Mr. Carcieri’s order directs state police to enter an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to allow them to enforce immigration law, which is similar to agreements made by various state and local law enforcement agencies in 17 other states. It also requires the executive branch and companies that do business with the state to use a federal computer system to verify the immigration status of new hires.

The governor also supports bills pending in the General Assembly that would make English the official state language and make it a felony to rent a home to an illegal immigrant.

After meeting with concerned clergy Friday, Mr. Carcieri refused to rescind his order, but he agreed to create an advisory committee that will monitor how it is enforced.

The state’s budget deficit for next fiscal year is about 10 percent of expected state spending, and the governor and lawmakers have been cutting funding to education, social services and aid to local communities to close the gap. So it’s not surprising that illegal immigrants are now in the governor’s sights, said Darrell West, a political scientist and pollster at Brown University.

“Illegal immigrants are a convenient target because they don’t vote, they tend to be poor and they don’t have a lot of political power,” Mr. West said.

Mr. Carcieri has denied the timing of his order was politically motivated. He faults Congress for failing to reform national immigration policy and said the state government must enforce the law.

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