Rhode Island State Trooper Nuno Vasconcelos was patrolling Interstate 95 a few months ago when he came upon a two-car accident in heavy traffic. The trooper pulled up, stepped out of his cruiser, and asked one of the drivers for his license.
The man said he did not have a license, and under questioning, confessed that he was here illegally from Guatemala.
If the accident had happened 15 miles north in Massachusetts, the man would probably have been arrested for driving without a license, which carries a fine of up to $1,000 and 10 days in jail, then released pending an appearance in district court.
But in Rhode Island, illegal immigrants face a far greater penalty: deportation.
From Woonsocket to Westerly, the troopers patrolling the nation’s smallest state are reporting all illegal immigrants they encounter, even on routine stops such as speeding, to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE.
Rhode Island’s collaboration with federal immigration authorities is controversial; critics say the practice increases racial profiling and makes immigrants afraid to help police solve crimes.
But it is a practice that Governor Deval Patrick’s opponents in the governor’s race are urging Massachusetts to revive. The Patrick administration has staunchly opposed having state troopers enforce immigration laws, and shortly after he took office in 2007, the governor rescinded a pact by his predecessor, Mitt Romney, to assign 30 troopers to the so-called federal 287(g) program, which trains local police to enforce federal immigration law.