When a Providence Rhode Island storeowner asked to see the Social Security number of a customer he suspected of being in the country illegally, a firestorm was touched off that may result in his being charged with a hate crime.
José Genao came to the Heating and Supply Store owned by David Richardson with a friend to purchase an $18 part for his boiler. As Richardson was ringing up the purchase and noticing that Genao’s friend wasn’t speaking any form of English, he asked to see proof of citizenship in the form of their Social Security Cards.
Genao and his friend, both natives of the Dominican Republic and U.S. Citizens refused, prompting them to tell Richardson he “did not have the right to ask all those questions.” Genao added, “There is no problem with his status. He is legal.”
Richardson admitted to being ‘surprised’ when the friend urged Genao to leave, in English.
Accounts given, although similar, by Genao and Richardson differ somewhat. Genao stating Richardson demanded and Richardson saying he “kinda asked” to see the cards.
Richardson, a member of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement that seeks curbs on illegal immigration says it is his “legal right to demand a Social Security card.” Latino leaders demonstrating outside of the store say it isn’t, as they demand criminal charges be pressed.
Rhode Island law, however, may be on the side of the offended Latino’s. Rhode Island General Law 6-13-17, related to Unfair Sales Practices states,
“Unless otherwise required by federal law, no person shall require that a consumer of goods or services disclose a Social Security number incident to the sale of consumer goods or services,”said Steven Brown of the Rhode Island affiliate to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“by demanding that this customer present his Social Security card, the owner clearly ran afoul of that law,” adding, [his actions] “also appear to clearly violate state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in places of public accommodation. There can be little question that this customer was singled out for discriminatory and humiliating treatment based on his national origin. Store owners have a legal obligation to serve all customers, and threatening to arrest a customer for speaking Spanish and for refusing to show a Social Security card is precisely the type of discriminatory conduct that the state’s ‘public accommodations’ law was meant to bar.”
Mark Potok, of the Southern Law Center’s Intelligence Project said,
“the incident reflects the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in this country, not solely restricted to illegal immigrants.” He continued, “This kind of thing is happening every day in this country. Do we really want to bring the country to this point where everyone who is brown-skinned is suspect? It’s really quite incredible people can be confronted in this way. We hear everyday from U.S. congressmen and television pundits and talk radio about the many terrible things brown-skinned immigrants are doing to this country, and they are almost universally false, but the reality is, they lead directly to incidents like this and, less directly, to violence.”
“I have no problem as a citizen of the United States of America to try and pursue people who are breaking laws. I was just trying to make [them] understand that people who come into this country who are illegal shouldn’t be here. I am very passionate about that,”adding that he did not call ICE or make a citizen’s arrest, as accused, “because I didn’t have enough proof.”
Asked what led him to suspect Genao’s friend as an illegal, Richardson said,
“What proof is there? I think the majority of people who don’t speak English in Rhode Island, at least 51 percent or more, are illegal aliens. I’m trying to wake America up. I’m trying to wake him [Genao’s friend] up, and let him be aware that people who are breaking the law shouldn’t be breaking the law.”
Terry Gorman, founder of the anti-illegal immigrant group Richardson belongs to, took exception to Richardson’s actions. In a phone interview, Gorman said,
“There’s no way I can defend what he did. It definitely isn’t the policy of RIILE to go around and use your RIILE card to intimidate people. That’s not something that RIILE would promote … to make citizen’s arrest.”
“I told Richardson I’m a U.S. citizen by choice, whereas he was just born here. I have every right to be here. I told him his behavior was shameful. And he went on to say that a lot of these illegal immigrants are criminals and we have to stop them, and he said he did this for his country, because it’s going downhill, because of all these illegal immigrants. What he should have done was say, ‘Thank you for shopping with me.’ That’s all he had to do.”
Genao ended with,
“Somehow, we have to keep on educating people. When it comes to this man, does he have any children or grandchildren? Does he let them see anyone who is not their kind? Or does ask them for their documents before he can let them play together?”
One point missed by nearly all is that the “tensions” over illegal immigration might not exist, were the authorities to enforce our immigration laws.