DeStefano’s proposal stirs controversy

New Haven City Hall has struggled to clarify its position on a proposal by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. last week to issue identification cards to illegal immigrants amid criticism from city and state residents and officials.

The proposal drew fire from Elm City residents after the New Haven Register headlined an article last Tuesday entitled “City to offer ID for illegal aliens” that outlined DeStefano’s proposal at a press conference to issue surrogate identification cards to individuals such as illegal aliens who are incapable of receiving other legitimate forms of identification. City Hall issued a statement the following day denying the city would issue the ID cards.

DeStefano’s chief of staff Karen DuBois-Walton said elements of the mayor’s speech last Monday indicated the ID proposal was closer to being put into practice than actually was the case.

“The way [the ID card proposal] was talked about at the press conference would have led anyone who was there to believe that the initiative was farther along in its development than it really was,” she said. “The way in which the ID card was talked about made it sound like it was something ready to be rolled out right away.”

The Register article prompted many to phone City Hall with questions about the logistics of receiving the ID cards, DeStefano’s Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Smuts ’01 said. Before long, he said, the press started calling in as well. Their queries were directed to an administration that had not yet proceeded past the planning stage of this initiative.

“There were a lot of things we had to check out before we were in a position to say, ‘We’re doing this,’ or even talk about a timeline,” Smuts said. “We tried to clarify that, and that didn’t always get across to people who saw a very definitive headline.”

While Andy Bromage, the author of the Tuesday Register article, said that as a reporter he does not write the headlines for his articles, he also said he felt his article accurately represented DeStefano’s words in the press conference.

“We definitely stand by the story as it was reported, and we feel that we wrote what was said,” Bromage said. “People read headlines and they stop there when really they ought to read the whole story. But we felt that the story was accurate, and reasonable, and true to the spirit of what they were talking about on Monday.”

DuBois-Walton said the confusion surrounding the issue was partially due to the fact that DeStefano’s press secretary, Derek Slap, was on “a well-deserved vacation” last week and was unavailable to direct the mayoral staff’s responses to queries.

While the issue has been settled for the moment, several figures in the upcoming Connecticut gubernatorial race, including incumbent Governor M. Jodi Rell, have expressed their opinions on the ID question.

“[Governor Rell] said two things: one, that she believes that people who are here illegally should ideally work their way towards getting legal immigration status, with an eye towards becoming citizens, and second, that an ID card, while well-intentioned, is probably not the best answer to that problem,” Richard Harris, a spokesman for Rell, said.

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