Despite Raids, IDs For All

New Haven takes the lead in recognizing undocumented immigrants’ rights to carry identification

Melinda Tuhus

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrest an illegal immigrant during an early morning operation.

On June 4, New Haven, Conn., became the first city in the country to authorize a municipal identity card for use by both citizens and undocumented immigrants. Thirty-six hours after the city council approved the card, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) staged a citywide raid that led to the arrest of 31 people. In some cases, ICE agents, entering apartments without warrants, took parents away in front of their children. City officials and community activists charge that ICE is retaliating for the city’s immigrant-friendly policies, although the feds deny that. New Haven has vowed to roll out the new IDs sometime in late July.

The Board of Aldermen approved the measure by a vote of 25 to 1, but required that the program’s expenses be covered by outside funds. The cards will cost $10 and be good for five years. Applicants must show proof of identity and proof of residence, but for those who have no documentation, the city will accept an affidavit from a social service agency vouching for that person.

The sole Republican board member voted no, saying she feared creating the ID would bring even more illegal immigrants into the city of 125,000 and strain the city’s finances. 

Opposition has also come from two of the people opposing Mayor John DeStefano as he seeks an eighth two-year term as mayor. One of them, James Newton, an economic and political consultant, says the cards are a cruel hoax.

When people get that card they feel redeemed,” he says. The problem is, New Haven is not a country unto itself. New Haven cannot be a municipality-type government that supercedes the federal government.” He says the raids were proof of that. 

The card can be used in a variety of ways – as a debit card at businesses, drawing down on the money card holders put in their bank accounts, a library card, a card to pay the city’s parking meters and as proof of residency for admission to city parks. City officials, Latino service organizations and members of the faith community all agreed that such a card would help protect immigrants from robbery and violence. Without a social security number to open a bank account, undocumented workers often carry a week’s pay in cash, making them vulnerable to attack. Two major banks – First City Bank and Sovereign – have already agreed to honor the cards, and 50 retail businesses, mini-marts and restaurants are lined up to accept payment from the cards. The city expects many legal citizens to get the cards for the convenience they offer, and others have already signed up to apply for the cards as an act of solidarity with the undocumented.

The arrests by ICE have provoked widespread condemnation among New Haven residents, like Puerto Rican Hector Santiago. We are all Latino,” he said as he visited with several Peruvian men on their porch one recent evening. I feel for them. I don’t agree with the raids. They are not criminals; they’re just workers who are trying to support their families.”

Most of the opposition to the IDs has come from outside the city, as anti-immigrant groups have hailed the ICE crackdown as necessary. Jerry Kristafer, a local talk show host, referred to immigrants as raping us financially.” 

After being jailed in various out-of-state prisons for a week, the arrested immigrants received a bond hearing in Hartford on June 14

Fátima Rojas, of Unidad Latina en Acción, a group which pushed for the municipal ID, says many people in Fair Haven, the heavily Latino section of the city where the raids took place, have been calling, afraid to go to work or send their kids to school. 

A spokeswoman for the northeast regional office of ICE says the raid was a routine operation targeting specific individuals. She denied it was in response to the creation of the municipal IDs.

However, of the 31 arrested, only four had outstanding warrants. The rest were picked up after they were found in the targeted apartments or on the street and were unable to produce immigration documents. 

Meanwhile, city officials are working with community agencies, grassroots organizations and churches to let people know exactly what the card can and cannot do. Yet in the wake of the raids, it remains to be seen how many undocumented residents will take advantage of the program.

Melinda Tuhus is an independent journalist with 25 years of experience in print and radio, including In These Times, The New York Times, Free Speech Radio News and public radio stations.
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