By RAY HENRY
Associated Press Writer
A civil rights group filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block Gov. Don Carcieri from enforcing an executive order requiring private employers to electronically check the immigration status of new hires.
The lawsuit, filed by the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, challenges an executive order that Carcieri signed in March to clamp down on illegal immigration.
Carcieri's order requires state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for possible deportation. It also forces state agencies and companies doing business with the state to use a federal database to check the immigration status of new employees. Companies that refuse to comply could lose their state contracts.
The ACLU argues that the database, E-Verify, disproportionately identifies foreign-born employees as ineligible to work and that the database could encourage employers to discriminate against workers who appear foreign.
A 2007 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security showed 96 percent of people claiming to be U.S. citizens were cleared by the database on the first try. But the report said 3 percent of foreign-born workers with the right to work in the U.S. were erroneously rejected by the E-Verify system, compared with .1 percent of U.S. citizens born here. The report cautioned that the error rates cannot be fixed quickly.
The lawsuit accuses Carcieri of violating the state constitution by interfering with existing contracts and by enforcing an executive order that conflicts with purchasing laws adopted by the General Assembly. It also accuses Carcieri of failing to hold a public hearing about the new rules as required by law.
Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe said the governor was within his legal authority to require state contractors to use the database. She said the ACLU's lawsuit lacked merit and called it an attempt to meddle with Carcieri's ability to enforce federal law.
The governor has said the estimated 20,000 to 40,000 illegal immigrants in Rhode Island are a financial drain on schools, hospitals and state government. His order sparked a raucous debate over illegal immigration in Rhode Island.
Clergy, civil rights advocates and Hispanic leaders have urged Carcieri to rescind the order, saying it could lead to racial profiling and discourage illegal immigrants from contacting police if they are victimized or witness a crime.