Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the State House yesterday afternoon to protest a policy approved by the Board of Governors for Higher Education last week that would make undocumented students in Rhode Island eligible for in-state tuition. The rally, organized by Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, coincided with a press conference held by six legislators — four state representatives and two state senators — to criticize Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 for supporting the measure.
Radio personality John DePetro, host of the John DePetro Show, opened the rally by addressing Chafee with the words, "You are the governor, not a dictator!" as the crowd cheered in agreement and waved the American flag. Many attendees carried black roses to symbolize their mourning of Rhode Island's perceived poor leadership.
Legislators, Tea Party members and other supporters also carried signs that read, "What part of ‘illegal' don't you get?" and questioned what funds "Santa Claus Chafee" planned to use to pay for the undocumented students' education.
The rally featured a variety of speakers, including a Rhode Island resident named Flori, who hails from Romania and said she became a legal citizen the "right way." Her message to Chafee is that citizens have both rights and duties, including the obligation to respect the law, she said.
Delores Issler of the Ocean State Tea Party In Action group pointed out that there is a difference between illegal aliens and immigrants, as a protester waved a sign reading, "R.I. loves legal immigrants" behind her.
State Rep. Peter Palumbo, D-Cranston, questioned whether the governor's priorities were in the right place, adding that he takes issue with Chafee's consideration of a policy change to allow undocumented students the "privilege of a driver's license."
The rally was interrupted early on by a group of approximately 20 counter-protesters in clown outfits who walked behind the speakers while waving signs that read, "This circus is for clowns only" and "My clowncesters came here the right way." The clowns, who call themselves "Clowns for Immigration Law Enforcement," targeted Palumbo as "the biggest clown of them all."
But the clowns did not disrupt the protesters, who continued to chant, "USA! USA!"
"Governor Chafee, maybe it's time for you and your pal Obama to hit the road," DePetro said.