12 on 12: An American Debate »
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The fear of worst-case scenarios are real for many involved in the debate over who should be allowed in the United States and who should be kicked out.
Deborah Gonzalez, director of the Roger Williams University School of Law Immigration Clinic, was the attorney in a case involving a Rhode Island resident separated from her daughter in 2017.
“The mother was deported,” Gonzalez said. “The child was sexually assaulted [in a deportation faciltiy] under the watch of this administration. She’s 7. She’s sexually assaulted by one of the kids there.”
According to Gonzalez, the family was never told about the assault by the feds. She said she uncovered what happened in the child’s case file.
“In that facility, they were housing kids from the age of 5 and 6 to 16 and 17,” Gonzalez said.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a hardline on immigration policy who’s consulted with President Donald Trump about the issue, offered another worst-case scenario.
“We don’t know who’s here, and I think you probably understand that the 19 hijackers that hit the World Trade Center — they had 63 drivers licenses,” he said. “They were in flight school. They hadn’t committed any crime until they did that as far as we know.”
Banyi Raudales immigrated to Rhode Island from Honduras 16 years ago, escaping another type of terror.
“It was extreme domestic violence,” Raudales said through an interpreter. “It was physical and sexual violence.”
Raudales is taking classes at Providence’s Genesis Center to become a home health aid.
She is still working on her English, but the joy she felt the moment she became an American translates pretty well.
“Oh,” Raudales said with a heavy sigh. “You see my body’s heavy but my feeling is light, and I wanted to scream and jump for joy. I said, thank God. Finally.”
Two cities away, in Lincoln, Terry Gorman checks on the peace of his expansive garden.
Gorman has been part of sometimes contentious local protests as the founder of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE).
He said now RIILE is less likely to demonstrate due to confrontations from groups that “support illegal immigrants.”
“It’s only the last several years that people have felt like this,” Gorman said. “But there’ve been instances at the State House where we’ve been confronted and called names — ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobe.'”
The immigration discussion is often about race and color, but very little is black and white.
One of the greyest areas might involve how many undocumented immigrants live here.
According to the Pew Research Center, Rhode Island is one of only two states in the country where births to immigrant mothers have declined since 1990, although very slightly, by just 13 births. (California is the other state with a decline.)
Gorman doesn’t believe that Pew statistic or the one that pegs the number of undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island at about 30,000.
“I think in Rhode Island, the numbers are mostly swept under the rug,” Gorman said, adding he thinks the number is more than twice as high.
The numbers could very well be a bit fuzzy, and the answer to what should be done with the immigrants who are here illegally seems to be as well.
Under federal law, Gonzalez said, judges faces “a balancing act.”
“The positive equities versus the negative equities,” Gonzalez said. “And the court has the authority, the discretion, to decide whether or not that immigrant is going to be allowed to stay in the U.S.”
Hodgson acknowledges “there may be” some wiggle room for “illegal immigrants” who have followed the law, paid taxes and raised children who were born in the U.S.
He offered a two-part answer to the question, should the government send all of the local “illegal immigrants” back to their respective countries?
“I think on the baseline of fairness that’s the right way to do it,” Hodgson said. “The realities of being able to send 11 million people back to their countries is unrealistic. That’s why we’ve been asking for 20 years for Congress to move on immigration reform.”
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Genesis Center employee Marcos Bonilla is waiting to take his citizenship test.
He is a legal immigrant from the Dominican Republic who has joined the Army National Guard.
Asked if he would die for America, he answered, “Yes, I would. I look forward to serving overseas. I’m proud to wear the uniform.”
Bonilla said he has met undocumented Rhode Island residents, but he said many “don’t feel like they’re breaking any laws.”
“But if they came to this country illegally — they broke the law,” Bonilla said.
Bonilla said he understands the points made by both sides, but believes one key in the future is better informing immigrants and their respective countries about the process to come to the U.S. legally.
“Building a wall might be an idea but I don’t think it can solve it. We should educate people and show them the right ways,” Bonilla said. “There’s a right way to enter this country.”