It is with overwhelming joy that we share the news that on July 17th, 2014, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an order directing our state’s prisons and jails to end their practice of holding immigrant detainees for additional time in order to transfer them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The previous policy of accepting “ICE hold” resulted in unknown hundreds of our community members being unfairly held by Rhode Island authorities, sent to ICE, and deported, often separating them from family members in Rhode Island.
Following the order, Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA) member Antonio Mejia was released after nearly seven months of detention on $300 bail for the charge of driving without a license. Toño was arrested in Central Falls, Rhode Island, in December and sent to Rhode Island’s state jail, where ICE placed a hold on him. Had Toño paid bail, he would have been sent to ICE and likely deported.
Instead of accepting this fate, Toño made the courageous choice to stay and fight, organizing from behind bars to pressure Governor Chafee to end this unjust practice. This victory is a testament to Toño’s courage, sacrifice, and faith in the power of organized communities to defend their rights and win justice.
With the signing of this order, Rhode Island has implemented the strongest statewide policy in the country limiting collaboration with ICE. This policy comes on the heels of years of organizing against ICE holds by a strong coalition of organizations After numerous meetings with the Governor and other state officials, delegations, forums, press conferences, marches, rallies, and call-ins, the state has finally taken action. The policy comes a month after leading gubernatorial candidates committed to ending compliance with ICE holds if elected. The policy also comes out in the midst of a lawsuit: Ada Morales, a US citizen, has sued the State and ICE for twice being detained on an ICE hold.
We celebrate this tremendous victory and the impact it will have on our communities; however, we also believe that for the hundreds who have been held and deported because of ICE holds, and for the tens of thousands who have had to live in fear for years that a routine traffic stop could lead to their deportation, that justice delayed is justice denied.
Up until the night before the policy was issued, ICE was in our jail picking up members of our community.
Governor Chafee bears responsibility for maintaining the holds policy for years after this issue was brought to his attention. Even now, his office tells us that the policy was issued this week in order to protect the state from liability in the ongoing lawsuit. The Governor’s foot-dragging and reluctant acceptance of community demands represents a missed opportunity for moral leadership at the highest levels of state government.
Rhode Island now joins over 160 jurisdictions in 20 states rejecting ICE holds. These figures represent the victories of a growing national movement challenging the collaboration of local law enforcement in President Obama’s policy of mass deportation. We celebrate our win here in Rhode Island and at the same time recommit ourselves to the fight against deportation and the separation of families. We won’t rest until our communities can live free from fear of deportation.
The Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA), a RESIST grantee, organizes low-income families, immigrants communities, and people of color in Olneyville and beyond to create a diverse, community-led movement that wins economic, social, and political justice.