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Candidates Tackle Illegal Immigration, Diversity in Debate

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Seven candidates for governor treaded familiar territory on the economy, jobs, and education while touching a number of hot-button issues like illegal immigration and diversity in a debate hosted last night by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund at the Community College of Rhode Island’s campus in Providence.

A major dividing line was the Arizona bill on illegal immigration—which one local state rep introduced in the last legislative session

Of the seven candidates, only two said they would support a Rhode Island version of the bill—Republicans Victor Moffitt and John Robitaille, who added that there were only certain parts of the law that he said would apply to the Ocean State. “Thank God we don’t have drug lords running and shooting at ranchers across our border,” Robitaille said.

Democrat Frank Caprio recalled his family’s migration to the United States, saying his grandfather arrived in Providence at a time when there was “an orderly process” for immigration. “What is going in our country right now is a shame—that we do not have a path to citizenship,” Caprio said.

Most Candidates Oppose Arizona Law

Some of the harshest criticism of the law, however, came from Moderate Party candidate Ken Block. “I think the Arizona law is asinine. There is no possible way that that law can begin to address the problems of illegal immigration,” Block said. “I think it’s xenophobic and doesn’t serve any purpose.”

Just one candidate, Democrat Patrick Lynch, explicitly stated that immigration was the number one civil rights problem in America. Despite the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president, he said Americans were more divided than ever and that “there are more hate groups in America now than there have ever been before.”

Independent candidate Lincoln Chafee said as governor he would work to make sure that Rhode Island didn’t have an Arizona-style law on immigration. Chafee also noted that it was a mistake for the Senate to not pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill sponsored by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy.

A second independent candidate, Todd Giroux, also opposed it. “America is the land of opportunity and we are all brothers and sisters,” he said. “Immigration is community building at its most basic level.”

In State Tuition?

Candidates split along similar lines when asked if they would repeal an executive order that Gov. Don Carcieri issued to step up enforcement of immigration laws in Rhode Island. Lynch called the law “cold-hearted” and “harmful” while Caprio said he didn’t object to it because it calls for the enforcement of existing law. Chafee, meanwhile, said he would repeal the executive order.

The two Republicans also opposed in-state tuition at state colleges for illegal immigrants. Robitaille said the state could not afford it, given the budget crunch it was facing. Block offered a compromise, saying in-state tuition should go to those who are here illegally but are working on getting citizenship or a visa.

Workers’ Rights

Another hot-button issue was whether Rhode Island should be participating in the E-Verify system, which confirms that workers are legal immigrants. Robitaille said the system was necessary to ensure that jobs were going to the Rhode Island residents who are currently unemployed.

Block described it as an effective way of stemming the tide of illegal immigration, but said he would tweak it to make sure it didn’t involve racial profiling. Giroux said local police should not be doing racial profiling of any kind. “I have no problem with it,” Moffitt countered. “I don’t think it’s racially profiling.”

Caprio said the system was necessary to make sure employers don’t take advantage of workers.

Chafee opposed it, asking why Rhode Island would want to participate in a system that only a handful of states had.

Lynch took aim at both Republicans and Caprio for taking a harder line on immigration. “It’s due process in America, but only due process for some,” he said. “It’s the land of opportunity, but only the land of opportunity for some.


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