At Providence Community Meeting, Concerns About Immigration, Life Under President Trump

Nov 17, 2016

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza hosted residents Wednesday night concerned about the future under President-elect Donald Trump. 

People at the meeting voiced questions about several issues including restrictions on women's reproductive rights, repealing Obamacare and mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. 

"We're both really concerned about the policies that Donald Trump has put forward targeting religious minorities and immigrants," said Nathaniel Wood, a Johnston resident who attended the meeting, held at a Providence high school. 

During his presidential campaign, Trump, a Republican, promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants from the United States if he became president. 

"I was distraught, I was disappointed, I became afraid, I became really concerned because of all the rhetoric that was used during the campaign," said Rosa De Castillo, a Cranston resident. De Castillo is originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States more than 20 years ago.

De Castillo described the racism she experienced when she first moved to the United States.

"And because of those feelings, I don't want anybody to feel the way that I felt many years ago," said De Castillo.  "I was not able to defend myself because of the language barrier. Now that I can speak English properly, I gained the strength to fend for myself, and others." 

Many people at the meeting were worried about divisions in the American population. Residents like De Castillo expressed the desire for a more unified country. 

"I'm not here because I am Latino, or pro-immigrant, or against Trump supporters, that's not the point. The point here is that we're all going to work behind the elected president, whether we like it or not," said De Castillo. 

The meeting, which was conducted both in English and Spanish, began with moderator Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan encouraging attendees to say hello to one another. 

Mayor Jorge Elorza spoke next and commented on the diverse age and racial makeup of the meeting. The mayor tried to reassure everyone that Rhode Island would remain a welcoming place. 

"I want everyone who lives in our city, everyone who lives in our state, I want them to know they aren't just loved. They are also safe here in our cities," said Elorza. 

Currently, Providence does not detain undocumented residents for federal authorities unless there is a criminal warrant for that individual. Earlier this week, Elorza said he had no plans to change the city's immigration policy. 

Later in the evening, the meeting broke up into smaller groups to discuss specific topics. The largest draw was immigration; the group had to move to a nearby classroom to accommodate the number of participants. 

Residents requested more discussion of how the city might protect its undocumented residents, more transparency regarding the state's immigration policy and information on asylum for refugees. Cranston resident, Chanravy Proeng, suggested that the city devote resources legal aid for undocumented residents. 

"Slow down the rush of people going towards lawyers, because they're not responding. I've called a bunch of lawyers," said Proeng. 

Proeng works in immigrant advocacy and says lawyers doing this work are currently inundated. She said some aren't guaranteeing appointments until January. Proeng also suggested that residents and government officials meet more often to discuss similar topics. 

"This is great, but we only have 30 minutes to talk about issues," said Proeng. "We need to strategically think about how to respond to that."

Elorza's office has pledged to make weekly announcements of new policy proposals, initiatives and community events related to immigration up until Trump's inauguration.