Following CWP campaign, city seeks to unify locals

In the week since the Community Watchdog Project distributed 7,500 anti-illegal-immigration leaflets in predominantly black neighborhoods in New Haven, an outcry from religious and political leaders has prompted city officials to look for ways to unite clashing community members.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. organized a discussion Thursday with religious and activist leaders to formulate a plan for combatting the CWP’s current campaign, which contends that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from blacks in New Haven. CWP leader Dustin Gold said he and 13 other volunteers were well received when they targeted homes, businesses and churches along Dixwell, Chapel and Dwight streets two weekends ago, but several local immigrant-rights activists countered that Gold’s claims are inaccurate and divisive.

City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Thursday’s meeting was a community-based effort involving a number of organizations that expressed frustration and concern with the CWP. Mayorga said the views of these organizations — including Community Mediation and the Anti-Defamation League — are shared by the mayor’s office, which will not accept “hateful” campaigns that promote discord in the community, she said.

“The city of New Haven is tolerant, but we’re not tolerant of that kind of behavior,” Mayorga said.

But finding a job as a black man is hard enough without the added hurdle of competition from illegal immigrants, Yale plumber Alan Felder said.

Felder, an organizer for the CWP and the only black member to distribute leaflets, said it is this competition from undocumented workers that prompted the CWP to begin a campaign to raise awareness in the black community about the economic dangers of illegal immigration. He said he is disappointed that he was not invited to the forum and that he thinks the discussion should have been open to members of the community.

The leaflets distributed last Sunday, titled “African Americans on Illegal Immigration,” featured quotations from black figures such as Frederick Douglass and U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas criticizing the threat illegal immigrants pose to blacks in America.

The brochure also included sections such as “What Can I Do To Save My City and Protect My American Civil Rights?” and “BEWARE: The Following Organizations in New Haven Are Working Against the Interests of All Americans,” followed by a list that included immigrant-advocacy group Junta, the New Haven Free Public Library and Yale Law School’s Legal Service Organization.

“Amnesty for illegal workers is not just a slap in the face to Black Americans,” the leaflet stated. “It’s an economic disaster.”

Sandra Trevino, executive director of Junta, said the views promoted by the CWP are “absolutely not correct.” She said she has not yet decided whether Junta will launch a counter-campaign to challenge the leaflets circulated by the CWP.

“For now, we’re going to continue to focus on our work within the community,” Trevino said.

Gold said the group plans to distribute 30,000 more leaflets Feb. 17 and hopes to eventually reach all 48,000 households in New Haven. The CWP also plans to raise awareness among members of the Puerto Rican community, who, Gold said, are often forced to leave New Haven to search for work in other cities.

“Clearly, low-income and minority citizens are being hurt most by illegal immigration,” Gold said. “Work opportunities are drying up.”

Darnell Goldson, who announced recently that he will run for mayor in 2009, said although he is not directly involved with the CWP’s campaign, he supports the group’s mission. In the past, Goldson has been a vocal critic of the Elm City Resident Card, which serves as a valid form of identification for all New Haven residents, regardless of legal status in the country.

“The fact is that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from people,” Goldson said. “Certainly, illegal immigrants are competing for the same jobs as high-school dropouts and former felons.”

Gold said the CWP has received positive responses from several New Haven aldermen, although he declined to name them, since they have not yet publicly acknowledged their support.

Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said the CWP has not yet asked him for his support, but if the group approached him and its arguments were “rational,” he would most likely support it.

“Immigrants should come through the door the legal way,” Lee said. “If you’re breaking the law, you’re breaking the law. It’s not fair that illegal immigrants can come here, make babies and then have those babies be citizens.”

But Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, who called the campaign “racist” and “dangerous,” said the CWP’s new effort has no basis in fact and only serves to build distrust among members of the community. Unemployment within the black community is the result of racial discrimination and criminalization of blacks, not immigration, Shah said.

“One does not have anything to do with the other,” he said.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said she is “outraged” by the CWP’s efforts. Although she understands the complexity of immigration, Clark said she views the arguments of groups like the CWP as an “excuse to be bigoted.”

“This city as a whole has always prided itself as being a city of equality,” she said. “This is a nation of immigrants.”

The Pew Hispanic Center reported that there were between 11.5 and 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States in March 2006.

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