Survey: City split on immigration

San Francisco may have snagged national headlines with the creation of a municipal ID card last month, but New Haven, which pioneered a similar card in May, has not finished settling immigration business of its own.

Gateway Community College on Wednesday released the results of a discussion on immigration that took place at the school in October — about two months later than anticipated.

Although faith in civic participation within the group increased after the discussion and 90 percent of participants said the experience was “valuable,” participants remained uncertain of how to deal with the immigration issue, according to the results.

The results — which were originally scheduled to be announced one week after the talks, Gateway Community College Director of Public Relations & Marketing Evelyn Gard told the News in October — reported the findings of two surveys distributed at a discussion on immigration issues.

The two surveys, one conducted before the session began and one after, questioned participants on their views on undocumented immigration, the Elm Ciy Resident Card and civic participation.

The event in October included two small-group discussion sessions, a plenary session with all of the participants and a panel featuring several local government and business leaders. Portions of the event were videotaped for use in a national television program. The event was hosted by the “By the People” initiative, a group that promotes civic engagement.

According to the Gateway press release, about two-thirds of the participants considered themselves knowledgeable about immigration after the event — double the amount who said they were knowledgeable before.

Still, the results of the survey may indicate that after the talk participants were unsure of the extent to which they should or can welcome undocumented immigrants — a hot-button issue at the talks.

Sixty-two percent of participants said they agree with the statement: “The state government should penalize Conn. businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.”

But 72 percent of the group also said illegal immigrants could become “productive members of society” if they pay taxes.

Some people at the session said afterward that they questioned whether the discussion would actually inspire participants to become more civically involved on issues related to immigration, as moderators said they hoped would happen.

“It really can’t help with the illegal immigrants here,” one Yale chemistry department worker who participated said after the session. “We’re just people talking. No actions are being done.”

At the plenary session, Kica Matos, community services administrator for City Hall, said immigration is not just the concern of the federal government. She said it is up to residents and local legislators to establish and enforce immigration policy.

“There are things that are happening in this community that we cannot ignore,” she said in October.

Matos could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Before the conference, a third-party surveying company randomly selected a pool of participants, of whom 100 agreed to attend, Gard said in October. Only 70 of those people attended the discussion.

The participating group was representative of the city’s ethnic breakdown, the press release said. Sixty percent of the participants were female, and 34 percent were ethnic minorities, according to the press release.

Some moderators of the discussion said the poll results indicated increased interest in the immigration issue among the participants of the discussion.

Penny Rogers, the head moderator, said the talks succeeded in “stimulating some level of interest,” which may eventually lead to changes in local legislation.

But Rogers said people who do not know immigrants personally may not want to change “failed” federal immigration laws.

“Unless it affects [them] intimately … people will see it as an issue too big for them to get their arms around,” she said.

The “By the People” series culminated in a panel Thursday night featuring the mayor of Danbury and state officials. A broadcast of the panel and portions of the October discussions will air on PBS in early January.

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