Newly formed immigrant coalition ‘won’t live in fear’

Heiney Maldonado

Representative Arthur Corvese‘s bill, H5093, “would make Rhode Island into a garrison state where there are serious penalties for not turning in our neighbors, pitting community against community,” said Heiney Maldonado, executive director of Fuerza Laboral, outside Corvese’s optometry office in Johnston. Maldonado was joined by representatives from a host of faith, community and labor organizations.

H5093, Orwelianly entitled the “Public Safety and Protection Act,” would force state and local law enforcement agencies to comply with all directives from Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents, essentially weaponizing local cops against undocumented families. This policy has the effect of making Rhode Island less safe, as undocumented residents begin to avoid the police, not reporting crimes for fear of being detained for years in prison and losing their lives, jobs and children.

Mike Araujo, executive director of RI Jobs With Justice, introduced the new coalition, saying that they are working to protect their families and communities from the threat of the local legislation like H5093 and Donald Trump‘s draconian executive orders on the national level.

Heiney Maldonado, executive director, Fuerza Laboral

Araujo explained that the location for the event was chosen, “to illustrate how precarious our positions are.” Corvese’s optometry office is located at 1524 Atwood Avenue, across the street from the local offices for ICE. Johnston is a town largely founded by recent Italian immigrants and is a historically Democratic town, yet in the recent election voted for Trump.

Reverend Jim Keller read from an 8-foot long scroll containing every Bible verse about welcoming strangers and immigrants into your community.

“We were living in a time where tacit approval had been given to deny the full humanity of our community, to a point where those who would do us harm can do so out in the open,” said Juan Garcia of Immigrants In Action an immigrant rights organization. “Bills like the one ‘Doc’ Corvese is proposing normalize an abnormal circumstance. Rhode Island is a state founded as a home to those seeking shelter from the storm as well as fertile ground for innovation and economic growth.”

Garcia produced a signed campaign promise from then-candidate, now Governor Gina Raimondo, who promised to issue an executive order within the first year of her governorship granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents.  Now in her third year as governor, Raimondo has said that she has no plans to keep her promise and has instead turned the issue over to the legislature, where Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who controls the flow of legislation, ran for re-election on a promise to not pass such a bill.

Not only did Raimondo sign her pledge, she altered the wording so that instead of 15 days, as the activists requested, she would have a full year to deliver on her promise.

Reverend Paolo Rivero

“We are calling on Rep Corvese to withdraw his bill, which would do so much damage to our community,” said Araujo, “We’re calling on Gina Raimondo to keep her promise to grant ‘the same driver’s licenses for everybody,’ a promise she made over two years ago, a promise she has not fulfilled.

“We are also here to say that we are here to fully defend the immigrant community and that we will put our resources, our commitment, our time and our bodies in the way of the machine that would split up families. We are fully committed to this and we are going to stay doing this until we win.”

Omar Bah, executive director of the Refugee Dream Center arrived right at the end to say that this time in history “is a great opportunity for us to remind our community and our country of who we are because I think America is a welcoming nation, we do things out of compassion, we bring people from all over the world. ” America, said Bah, gave him a chance to build himself a second life.

Donald Trump’s executive orders, said Bah, “will have a potentially huge impact on our communities. People are currently hiding, I have interacted with people who have cried, who are fearful. Yesterday a lady came to my office she had removed her veil. She’s a Muslim and she didn’t want people to see her and identify her. That’s the environment created in our communities currently.”

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