The Spine

Is This Arizona? No, It's Rhode Island. And "They Report All Who Are Present Illegally."

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So says a subhead on the front page of this morning's Boston Globe. The headline reads "R.I. troopers embrace firm immigration role." The story contrasts Rhode Island with Massachusetts. But it might as well be Arizona.

Now, the state senate has 33 Democrats, four Republicans and one independent. The state house a slightly more lopsided division: 69 Democrats to six Republicans. But, believe it or not, the governor is a Republican. This is a liberal state, including being indulgent towards ethnic crime.

But on illegal immigration it's as tough as Arizona. Maybe tougher.

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.

The Massachusetts narrative is a story of contrasts. When my friend Deval Patrick, whom I support for re-election, won the governorship, he axed a program installed by governor Mitt Romney that bound state troopers to investigate the legality of the presence in America of those who they apprehend for, let's say, a traffic offense. The federal Law Enforcement Center, associated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is there to help. The Bay State doesn't want any help. The Providence Plantations or the Ocean State is alternatively named is using all the help it can get to track illegal immigrants. "I would feel that I'm derelict in my duties to look the other way," says Colonel Brendan P. Doherty, the Rhode Island State Police commander.

There are roughly 33,000 illegal immigrants in R.I.

Illegal immigration is now an issue in the Massachusetts gubernatorial election. Beware!

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