An e-mail acquired by the Associated Press on Saturday revealed that, one day before dozens of New Haven residents were arrested in federal immigrant raids last summer, local Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials notified the organization’s national director that the Board of Aldermen approved the Elm City Resident Card program.
The June 5 e-mail, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, also discloses that ICE — the largest arm of the Department of Homeland Security, which conducted the summer raids — expected the raids to garner substantial media attention. The raids took place in Fair Haven just two days after the Board of Aldermen passed the funds for the ID cards, which are available to residents regardless of immigration status.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. told the AP that the e-mail reinforces his belief that the timing of the June 6 arrests was not a coincidence and instead corresponded with the approval of the municipal ID program.
“It is really difficult to believe that the launch of our program has nothing to do with this,” City hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Sunday. “When you read these e-mails, you are reminded of that.”
But Jessica Mayorga also clarified Sunday that DeStefano does not think the raids were “retaliatory,” despite claims to the contrary immediately following the arrests.
National ICE officials said it is common practice to send e-mails on immigration developments across the nation, as they come up, and that the news did not influence the timing. Federal ICE spokesperson Paula Grenier told the AP that the e-mail was “something we typically do [which] is to pass on information.”
The timing of the e-mail had nothing to do with date of the raids, she said.
In June, DeStefano released a six-page document arguing that the raids violated constitutional rights, caused trauma among the young children and did not “follow protocol.”
Although Department of Homeland Security spokesman William “Russ” Kanocke told the News in June that ICE typically contacts “relevant” city officials before conducting raids, City Hall officials said local police and city officials were never contacted in advance.
According to a June City Hall statement citing sworn witness testimony, ICE agents did not have warrants to enter households and failed to receive proper consent from residents and to identify themselves properly. In a June 14 letter to Connecticut leaders, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff disputed these claims.
For months, ICE officials have denied that the raids were motivated by the ID program, saying that the raid was planned for months and the timing was merely coincidental. Kanocke told the News last June that DeStefano’s accusation was “bogus.”
“When you have a local official that makes the suggestion that an enforcement action is somehow correlated to the political views or policies of a community, it’s just bogus,” Kanocke said. “That’s not at all how it works, and it’s not even close to grasping the sophistication and the planning that goes into an ICE enforcement action.”
The raids were originally scheduled for April 20, 2007, shortly after national media started to cover the Elm City Resident Card program, Law School attorneys have said based on their correspondence with ICE officals.
The raids were then pushed to May 2, confirmed by a redacted letter released through a June 26 FOIA request to Law School professor Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93, who is representing immigrants rights groups as well as the arrested immigrants. ICE officials told the News that the raids were pushed back to June due to problems with planning.
Wishnie told the AP that the e-mail does not indicate ICE officials “wanted to be prepared to respond to that expected attention.”
But, he said, “it certainly casts doubt on the statements that the raid had nothing to do with the ID program.”
Wishnie declined to the comment to the News on Sunday night.
ICE agents from the Department of Homeland Security raided at least four households in the predominantly Hispanic Fair Haven area on June 6 as part of “Operation Return to Sender,” a nation-wide ICE plan to issue deportation warrants.
On June 26, Wishnie and the Law School clinic attorneys, on behalf of JUNTA for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Accion, two local immigrant advocacy groups, applied for documents concerning the raids from the Conn. Department of Public Safety.
Citing a state FOIA law that prohibits the release of records concerning criminal investigations, the state Department of Public Safety refused to provide a portion of its records to the Yale attorneys representing the arrested residents in October. That prompted the attorneys to file an appeal, which was considered by the FOI commission on Nov. 1.
On Nov. 9, the commission ordered the DPS to release the raid documents Wishnie had requested. Attorneys then said they expected the new documents to strengthen existing evidence that the riots were reactionary.
Other than the list of 32 as-of-yet unspecified names, the documents requested by Wishnie include a 10-page operational plan for the ICE raids that the DPS received from Homeland Security on May 29. It is unclear whether Wishnie has received any documents since the Nov. 9 hearing, and he could not be reached for comment Sunday.
-The Associated Press contributed reporting.