ICE raids at Rhode Island courthouses protested

On July 15 at 5 PM, 50 agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and 12 detectives from the Rhode Island state police simultaneously raided all six of the state’s courthouses, arresting 31 immigrants employed as maintenance workers by two contractors hired by the state. Those arrested were 16 women and 15 men, immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico. (Providence Journal, July 17)

Two of the raided courthouses are in Providence; the others are in Wakefield, Newport, Warwick and Cranston. The raids were timed to coincide with maintenance schedules: in the two Providence courthouses, workers were just starting their shifts at 5 PM and would have normally stayed until 9 PM or 10 PM; in the other courthouses, the workers come in earlier and are normally done by 6 PM. (PJ, July 16)

News of the raids spread rapidly as courthouse workers phoned relatives, friends and community leaders, who in turn called other supporters through a phone tree. By 8 PM, activists and community members—including relatives of those arrested in the raids—had begun an emergency demonstration outside the ICE office in Providence. Young people ages six to 16 led the chanting, according to an email from activist Shannah Kurland. The protest quickly swelled to more than 200 people at its peak. Participants included clergy and at least one state representative, Grace Diaz.

Police officers arrived and the situation become tense; the crowd divided and protesters rushed to doors at the front and rear of the building. Witnesses said demonstrators sought to block ICE vans from taking the workers to detention centers. The police pushed a line of protesters across the parking lot. (ABC 6 News, July 15, 16; PJ, July 16, 17; Kurland e-mail, July 15; Patrick Crowley report on Daily Kos, July 15)

Speaking to the press at the demonstration, Leonardo Tornes said his sister, Francesca Tornes, an undocumented worker from Mexico, was arrested at the Kent County Courthouse in Warwick. “She has two children—one and five years old,” he said through an interpreter. (PJ, July 16)

By the morning of July 16, 12 of the arrested workers had been released for humanitarian reasons to await immigration proceedings, either because of medical conditions or because they were the primary caregivers of young children. At least some of those released were fitted with electronic monitoring devices on their ankles. At a July 16 news conference at the US attorney’s office in Providence, Bruce Foucart, special agent from ICE’s Boston office, said the 19 workers still detained were being held at various facilities in the region; he refused to give details.

Some of the workers had used fraudulent identification to obtain their jobs, said US Attorney Robert Clark Corrente. None has been charged criminally, said Corrente, but all face immigration charges. The raid culminated a month-long investigation which began on June 6, when a court clerk at the J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence noticed a paper reproduction of an identification card on the office floor beside a photocopy machine. The clerk called the Capitol Police, who in turn notified state police.

No charges have been filed against the two cleaning companies that supplied the workers: TriState Enterprises of North Providence and Falcon Maintenance LLC of Johnston. (PJ, July 17) However, the state Department of Administration has launched a review of both contractors to make sure that TriState and Falcon are complying with state and federal employment and immigration laws, according to a statement from Governor Don Carcieri’s office. (AP, July 17) According to activist Shannah Kurland, one of the contractors has been in a battle with members of Fuerza Laboral, a local labor group, for refusing to pay wages. (Kurland e-mail, July 15)

The two companies have at least 45 contracts to clean state buildings, including the offices of Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, the state Department of Administration and the Board of Elections. (PJ, July 18) As a result of the raids, the University of Rhode Island and the Community College of Rhode Island have also begun reviewing their maintenance contracts with TriState and Falcon. (PJ, July 17) The University of Rhode Island says none of the cleaning crews it hired through TriState has showed up for work since the raids took place. At Community College of Rhode Island’s Warwick campus, only 10 of 32 janitors showed up for the 6 PM shift on July 16. (PJ, July 18)

The raids occurred during the first meeting of a governor’s advisory panel, charged with monitoring any “unintended consequences” of Governor Carcieri’s executive order cracking down on immigrants. The order, issued in March (see INB, May 14), requires that state police be deputized with certain immigration enforcement powers. (PJ, July 16) Corrente said the date of the operation had been set for a while, and the timing of the raids had nothing to do with the meeting. (PJ, July 17)

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that at the advisory panel meeting, “representatives from community organizations were explicitly told by the state police that the agency would not be in the business of conducting immigration raids. We now know that at almost the very same moment, they were doing just that in coordination with federal authorities,” said Brown.

State police superintendent Col. Brendan Doherty denied the claim in a morning news conference on July 16. “I stated it’s not a state police initiative to conduct raids and sweeps. This was not a raid,” Doherty explained. “This was a police action. These were arrests. We do not initiate raids of any buildings, businesses or homes regarding ICE matters.”

Brown called Doherty’s words an “Orwellian twist of language.” (PJ, July 17)

A growing coalition from across southern New England met on July 17 at St. Patrick Church in Providence to plan legal, social, and financial aid for the detainees and their families. They included representatives of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Fuerza Laboral (Power of Workers) and the Immigrants in Action Committee of St. Teresa Church; lawyers from Greater Boston Legal Services, the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild of Connecticut; and clergy. (PJ, July 18)

From Immigration News Briefs, July 20

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Rhode Island.