It’s time for Rhode Island’s undocumented immigrants to seek legal assistance to try to resolve their situation or get into a better position with immigration.

In a previous post, we’ve discussed the reluctance of Newport’s public officials to declare Newport a sanctuary city. Sanctuary cities are any of the hundreds of municipalities across the country where law enforcement officials either turn a blind eye to an immigrant’s legal status or have flat-out agreed not to cooperate with immigration authorities when interacting with undocumented immigrants for minor run-ins with the law or during investigations.

Many municipalities have strong economic and social reasons for refusing to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. In some areas, the cities depend heavily on the immigrant workforce in many different industries. Complying with federal law could not only overburden the police system, it could devastate the local economy, lead to labor shortages and create huge personal losses by breaking up families.

Previously, Newport’s mayor had declined to officially make Newport a sanctuary city because of the danger of losing federal funds under the Trump administration. It looks like those fears may be well-founded. Unfortunately, officials had been relying on the fact that Rhode Island, in general, functioned like a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

That may rapidly change. A bill just introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly is targeting sanctuary cities in particular, but it would have the same effect across the state: it would require law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of anyone in their custody for any reason. If an immigrant in custody for anything even as small as a routine traffic stop is determined to be here illegally, the Sheriff’s Department would be required to inform the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

This would directly change the statewide policy that currently instructs Rhode Island’s police not to hold someone for immigration authorities unless there is a deportation order by a court.

It’s important that immigrants in Rhode Island who need to resolve their immigration status or have problems like missing documentation seek out the assistance of an immigration attorney as soon as possible. It’s much better to be proactive about changing your immigration status than it is to be caught and deported—which could keep you from returning to the United States for a significant period of time, if ever.