Undocumented children debate reaches RI


As the nation's border crisis continues to heat up, Rhode Islanders are joining in the debate and taking sides on immigration.

At one rally, held in front of the Homeland Security building on Friday morning, activists gathered to build support for housing undocumented minors and requesting driver's licenses for undocumented adults.

"I would like to send a message to President Obama that he treat these families and these children as the refugees that they are," said Elvira Arrellano, speaking through a translator.

Originally from Mexico, Arrellano was deported from the U.S. seven years ago after taking refuge for a year at a church in Chicago. She returned to the U.S. in March. Her children have dual citizenship in the U.S. and Mexico.

Arrellano and other activists at the rally said they want to stop deportations and expand the DREAM Act to allow parents of undocumented children -- and undocumented parents of U.S. citizens -- to stay in the United States.

"If these families are deported, they run the risk of being killed in their countries of origin," Arrellano said.

Protesters on the steps of the Rhode Island State House on Friday afternoon argued for the opposite side.

"We cannot afford to take on new people," Karin Gorman said. "We can't take on the people we have already."

Gorman, representing Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, joined protesters who oppose housing undocumented immigrants. They gave reasons such as Rhode Island's fragile economic state and the uncertainty of who was coming into the country. One speaker compared it to the levee breach in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, but with people instead of water.

At each rally, there was a sense of urgency, either to open the borders as a refuge or to close them out of caution.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee told NBC 10 that Rhode Island has not been contacted by any federal agencies to talk about housing undocumented children. Meanwhile, states like Massachusetts are considering the possibility.

For those against illegal immigration, it's still a major concern and an issue that could come up in the near future.

"The land of opportunity -- everything is going to be so much better," said Terry Gorman, executive director of RIILE. "When they get to the United States, what are we doing with them?"

The group stressed the need for elected officials to step up their efforts.

"We can't let them get away with this any longer. We're losing our country, we're losing our state," Karin Gorman said.

Back at the Homeland Security building, immigration activist Juan Garcia talked about children and families who could lose their lives.

"All these kids are coming up from these countries because [there is] a lot of organized crime, murders, [narcotics trafficking], and in these poor countries, too much corruption," Garcia said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released a statement Friday saying that he believes undocumented children "shouldn't be the object of our political scorn."

In his statement, Tobin writes that he asked himself what Jesus, Mother Teresa or Pope Francis would do. However, he also acknowledged that Rhode Island has limited resources when it comes to housing undocumented children.