As cold persists, options for immigrants are few

On an icy Thursday afternoon, three federal agents in a Chevy uplander brimming with boxes of documents drive down Whalley Avenue. A U-Haul truck soon pulls up to the entrance of the Community Action Agency of New Haven, and frightened employees watch as more than a dozen agents burst through the front door marked with a scrap of yellow notebook paper reading “Agency Closed.” With bulletproof vests and guns at their sides, the agents skid over black ice and up the concrete stairwell. They tear through the tired brick building, emerging with stacks of files in their arms, many marked “ENERGY.” By 4 a.m. the next morning, the agents load up and speed away with the product of their search: three computers and nearly 90 boxes of documents.

What provoked the Dec. 14 raid on this local nonprofit, one that helps fight poverty by allocating federal funding to low-income communities?

This child’s immigrant family, which receives emergency heating aid from the Livable City Initiative, struggles to brave the cold.
Catherine Cheney
This child’s immigrant family, which receives emergency heating aid from the Livable City Initiative, struggles to brave the cold.

The simple answer: heating aid. And, more specifically, a federal investigation into the organization, which allegedly provided this service to illegal immigrants.

One-and-a-half miles from the Community Action Agency, in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood, sits a three-story apartment complex, easy to overlook in a row of similar, wood-paneled homes — save for a shattered window next to the front door. Inside, there are two apartments on each floor, including an attic apartment never intended for human occupancy. In the dingy, frigid basement, broken furnaces circulate carbon monoxide and dust, and a freestanding toilet sits atop fetid sewage.

The attic apartment houses seven people — four Mexican immigrants and their three young children who came to New Haven by bus in 2000 to join other family members. They have been cold all winter. But not once have they complained.

The controversy over heating aid for illegal immigrants is the latest front of what has been a growing battle between those who see New Haven as a sanctuary city for all its residents, regardless of their documentation status, and those who believe government resources should be reserved for the exclusive use of legal citizens. As winter in Connecticut remains bitterly cold, the demand for heating aid raises the stakes of the immigration debate.

Subzero temperatures may not discriminate. But, apparently, heating does.

The Agency

Amos Smith, who has been the CEO of the Community Action Agency of New Haven for the past 17 months, found himself caught between contradictory federal laws before the December raid. One prohibited Community Action Agencies from demanding Social Security numbers in order to determine the citizenship of applicants. The other stipulated that illegal immigrants are ineligible for energy aid.

Part of the National Association of Community Action Agencies, CAANH and its peer agencies provide statewide home heating services to low-income families, ensuring that those who use gas and electric utilities are not denied access because of failure to pay and providing vouchers for those who use oil to fuel their furnaces.

Smith explains that the city uses a system implemented in 1982, which allows heating aid applicants seven to 10 days to produce a Social Security number. In the meantime, CAANH employees use a drop-down menu to insert substitute numbers so that application materials can be processed. He claims that while applications are meant to terminate if the Social Security number is not produced, employees may approve the application at their own discretion.

But in September 2007, an anonymous whistleblower filed complaints with the state attorney general and with federal agencies claiming that CAANH was approving heating aid applications from illegal immigrants. The ensuing investigation has forced the agency to the center of increasing controversy over immigration.

“This is not something we want to have a public discussion on and this is something we think is in the past,” Smith said in a phone interview. “We followed state law.”

Racial tensions at a boil

Taking a seat in the back row of a cramped Metro bus, Annette Walton — popularly known on Yale’s campus as the Flower Lady, who panhandles on the corner of York and Elm streets — twists stray dreadlocks into her knit cap and unzips her heavy winter coat.

“How can somebody come here and not put in no time or taxes and get heating before me?” she demands, inspiring nods from the black women across the aisle.

Annette supplements her disability benefits by selling flowers, and relies on CAANH to heat her one-bedroom apartment.

“You know, immigrants been here working and getting paid under the table,” she complains to anyone who will listen as she steps off the bus at the Fitch and Whalley stop, the New Haven headquarters for Community Action.

Annette has long used a friend’s identity to register for assistance.

“My bill is so high and my credit is so bad, I don’t put it in my name,” she says. But she fears she is under a more watchful eye applying for heating aid this year, and she blames “the immigrants.”

As she approaches the door to CAANH, she spots a young Hispanic man smoking a cigarette near the entrance. She asks him for a smoke but he turns away.

“He act like he don’t know what I said!” Annette shouts, flustered. “But he said ‘What’ to me so I know he speaks English. Now he’s speakin’ Spanish, you know? Holler at me!”

Annette enters the waiting room where, throughout the day and into the evening, New Haven residents sit, waiting, hoping to receive assistance with gas, oil and electric bills to heat their homes.

Beside Annette sits Darlene, who claims she applied for aid two months ago and has yet to receive assistance — or even acknowledgment. Her two-year-old granddaughter, Aniya, plays with a new friend on the stained carpet as Darlene watches, her eyes wide with worry.

“I keep her warm with space heaters and I bundle her up,” she explains. “I use the oven, unfortunately. I turn it on and open the door. It’s very dangerous.”

Twenty minutes pass, and Annette’s name is called. She goes to the energy assistance desk only to discover that she must return for an appointment in two months, with documentation: Social Security number, date of birth, landlord’s name and address, a rent receipt, an active gas bill, a bank statement and proof of household income.

The bus ride and wait have taken the better part of a day, and for Annette, there will be no word from the agency until her next appointment. In the interim, she will keep her heat on and cross her fingers that the voucher she receives will cover the cost of the fuel.

“Right now, my s—t is still on,” she says. “I gotta keep it on.”

Enter Livable City Initiative

At 8 p.m., Rafiel Ramos, deputy director of code enforcement of the Livable City Initiative — the neighborhood and housing development office unique to New Haven — begins his rounds at the Dwight neighborhood apartment complex that the Mexican family of seven calls home. After an already exhausting 12-hour workday, he inspects the most urgent code violations, which were discovered by housing inspectors.

Ramos does not earn overtime pay for the extra hours he works, but winter does not wait, he says, and as the year grows colder, “no heat” complaints skyrocket.

In the basement, Tony and Rick, who work with Ramos at the Livable City Initiative, move cautiously from one room to the next. Rick holds a tool near broken wires to detect voltage, and at every turn it buzzes and lights up, warning of potential electrocution at each cluster of tangled wires. Rick reminds everyone to keep clear of the dangling cords.

Tony adds, “I’d recommend you wash your shoes or throw them away. You’re walking on human feces.”

After snapping pictures of the basement, Ramos has had enough. “Okay, let’s get out of here. This smell is making me puke.”

The smell continues up the rickety staircase to the door of the apartment.

Ramos knocks. No answer, but 10 minutes later, a child rustles inside. He knocks again, more insistently.

“¿Quién es?” — Who is it? — a woman asks, pressed against the door. Ramos identifies himself and says he is there to help.

The woman peers through a crack in the door and, after giving her visitors a skeptical lookover, steps aside. In the small two-room apartment, her children huddle on the bare couch, bundled in layers covering everything but their cold, pink cheeks.

Ramos says immigrants stay silent, despite the freezing temperatures, either because they are too fearful or uninformed to contact LCI in the first place, or because they cannot afford to sustain themselves after the emergency aid wears off.

And many landlords take advantage of this silence by providing sub-standard services, even when these tenants are paying their rent, he says.

“My experience is that the immigrant population always pays their rent, always and on time, unlike some citizens,” Ramos says. “Meanwhile, everyone abuses them, loading them in these apartments like sardines, 13 to an apartment. Landlords benefit from that because they can get more money for a rickety apartment with roaches and rats.”

LCI employees were doing a routine license inspection when they discovered this family’s living condition — and they directed the information to Ramos. Immediately.

Ramos asks the oldest of the three girls what her name is — “Hola niña. ¿Cómo te llamas?” — as she shows the new visitors her somersaults. Teresa Perez, the mother of the three young girls, and her sister-in-law, Josefina Martinez, pay rent for their apartment every month, but they say the landlord does not provide the services promised to them.

Both women’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.

After further inspections, Ramos concludes that the tenants are in good standing. They paid their rent and had oil in the basement, but the landlord failed to maintain functioning furnaces, forcing the family to turn to dangerous habits.

“When folks are cold, they’ll turn their gas stoves on, which is an issue because it can fill your home with carbon monoxide or deplete the oxygen in the environment.”

He explains that the Perez and Martinez families were using a space heater, which is “not designed to be full-time heating systems because they can cause fires, especially when children play with blankets and get up next to them.”

Ramos arranges for both families to move into a nearby motel for two nights while repairs are made in the basement. He provides them with a 10-day emergency supply of 50 gallons of heating oil. But when that supply runs out, they will need to purchase their own. LCI’s aid, after all, is provided only short-term, when tenants are in danger.

After leaving the apartment, Ramos explains why he works such thankless hours.

“The reward for me is I can help people. I can impact s—t. I can make s—t happen, and at the end of the day I feel good,” he says. “New Haven is great for this. New Haven doesn’t want anyone to be cold.”

The community speaks

Cassandra Floyd, CAANH Director of Energy, concedes that the agency used placeholder numbers in order to maintain data on clients without documentation. But with the recent uproar over illegal immigrants receiving heating aid, state officials have called for new procedures to ensure applicants who cannot produce a Social Security number are not entered into the system.

“Now, we cannot process any applications that don’t have Social Security numbers. We just put them to the side,” Floyd explains.

The agency finds itself in a tough position.

“Clients call saying they don’t want to freeze, but we’re limited in helping them,” she says. Leaning on the side of her cluttered desk, Floyd sighs as she explains that, in her opinion, low-cost fuel should go to anyone who needs it, regardless of his or her citizenship or lack thereof.

Meanwhile, in the waiting area just outside her office, illegal immigrants sit among registered citizens on metal folding chairs, hoping that they can receive aid, as in years past.

Yvonne Jones, a young black woman, exits the Community Action building after her appointment and lights a cigarette. Walking past graffitied walls toward her West Haven home, she explains that having a baby changes her perspective on the heating aid issue. “I just want my kid to have a secure future but people come in illegally and get all these opportunities,” she says. “They coming up, the immigrants is coming up. They had Hondas and now they have SUVs, and here I am walking.”

Jones adds, “It’s not right because us citizens should have first priority but the immigrants get priority and that leaves us in a rut.”

Fatima Rojas, an activist for the immigrants rights group Unidad Latina en Acción, emphasizes the need for cooperation between the black community and the immigrant community in New Haven. “We are not talking about animals. We are talking about human beings,” Rojas explains. “There are families with babies and they are not able to have heating aid so they are worried.”

Rojas is working to build a more amicable relationship between the low-income black and Hispanic immigrant communities. “We are holding meetings with the African-American community and inviting African-Americans to meetings to find out what is going on, to learn about each other. All these issues are affecting human rights. Whether undocumented or documented, immigrants or not, we are all human.”

Alan Felder, a black plumber and founder of “Man-Up,” an organization that protests government-related contracts going to illegal immigrants, understands that no one “wants to see anybody freeze.” But on the other hand, he explains, “We have individuals who do not belong in this country.”

When asked for his opinion on arguments paralleling the civil rights movement and the plight of illegal immigrants, he refuses to acknowledge the similarity.

Felder lowers his voice, his tone irate. “No one is forced to go across the border into America. But we were forced across the whole ocean. You can’t compare that. That’s an insult.” Felder says he does not want cooperation between black people and illegal immigrants, claiming he will avoid it at all costs.

Anti-immigrant groups echo sentiments that those who reside here illegally have no right to basic social services. Chris Powell, managing editor of the Connecticut tabloid newspaper the Journal Inquirer, argues that illegal immigrants should return to their home countries if the cold becomes unbearable.

“I wouldn’t say being freezing is life-threatening in this case, because anyone illegally in the country can always present himself to law enforcement authorities and say, ‘Hey, I need a ride home,’ back to their countries.”

Bill Farrel, coordinator of the anti-immigrant group Southern Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Reform, agrees. “You know, Mexico is pretty warm,” he says, when asked what immigrants should do to escape the cold.

Farrel explains, “It’s not a human right to commit a crime and ask us to reward you with benefits. I mean, if someone broke into your house and you happen to catch him there, and if that guy is eating stuff out of your refrigerator and he says, ‘But hey, I cleaned the toilet. I want to stay here and you need to warm me up,’ I would say, ‘I don’t care. Get the hell out of my house!’ ”

Dustin Gold — chief strategist of the Community Watchdog Project, a group that has been vigilant in its quest to abolish illegal immigration in Connecticut — agrees. Gold aided the whistleblower from Community Action, taking the leaked information to any media outlets that would listen.

Gold realizes that his initiatives will leave immigrants cold this winter, but does he feel remorse?

“No,” he responds nonchalantly. In fact, Gold argues that everyone at CAANH who granted heating aid to illegal immigrants should go to prison.

As long as we get it first

After her appointment, Annette waits at the bus stop outside the Community Action Agency. The bus will return her to the street corner where she sells flowers and ask for spare change. She kills time by talking with a young black mother — who asked to remain anonymous — as she leans against the smeared glass and rubs her hands together, trying to keep warm. The two women talk without restraint about their frustrations with Community Action.

“When I was callin’ them earlier today, they was like, ‘Your waiting time is 60 minutes,’” the mother chuckles, attempting to sound like the operator. “So I just took a break from work and came down here!”

When asked whether she thinks everyone should be given an equal right to heating aid, the young woman’s first instinct is to say, “Yes.”

Then, Annette jumps in. “How old your baby?” Annette asks. One year old, the woman answers.

“And you wouldn’t even care if the illegal immigrants took your heat? When you have a baby?” Annette waits for what she thinks to be the only suitable answer.

“As long as we got it first!” the young woman shouts, putting her hand on her hip and raising her voice for the first time. Annette throws her head back with a smile. “That’s what I’m talking about. Holler at me!”

Meanwhile, Teresa Perez and Josefina Martinez have run out of emergency aid and, like the other immigrants in the apartment complex, resort to lining their windows with plastic. Both women are frustrated with the arguments that illegal immigrants take jobs away from American citizens.

“We’re not robbing anyone,” Martinez says. “The thing is that black people don’t do the work we do. They won’t clean toilets, and we will, for necessity, to support our family in Mexico, and our children.”

Last year, the Perez and Martinez families received heating assistance through CAANH, but this year, they will likely have to find another way to keep warm.

“Last year, I told Community Action that my daughters had Social Security numbers and they said no problem. They gave me an appointment immediately,” Perez explained, in Spanish. “This time, when I walked in, the receptionist asked why I came there, and I said it was for oil.”

“She didn’t ask me if I had kids. She just asked for my name and number and said she would call me for an appointment. They haven’t called yet,” she continues, days after her original visit.

“But,” Perez says, “I have hope. There is always tomorrow.”


  • Excellent article.

    This article really shows the inhumanity of the anti-immigrant leaders. The only two people who speak with any sort of human decency are Rojas and Ramos.

    Dustin Gold, it appears, would be happy to see that family freeze to death. Including, I suppose, their U.S.-born children.

    The fact that these anti-immigrant leaders don't have any compassion for the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants shows that their real agenda is anti-Latino racism. They want all the "Mexicans" to go back to Mexico -- even if those "Mexicans" were born in the U.S.

  • Anonymous

    A really fantastic article, Catherine.

  • complex issue

    thought this was interesting. this is a complex issue and even though I don't agree with him, the guy who talked about the thief stealing from his fridge illustrates why there is such a big gap between those who want to provide services to all and those who want to reserve it only for citizens.

  • Anonymous

    fantastic stuff, Cat! i'm glad you found your story.

    - joyce tagal

  • Leona

    I am sorry for these people but they are breaking our laws by being here. First they should not get citizenship just because they had a baby on our soil. There is the first problem!. It is done purposely just to gain citizenship. I am having a hard time myself and I have friends who want me to apply for housing and here I am trying not to and yet I should feel sorry for people who want a free ride as they are breaking our laws. I say GO HOME & TRY TO CHANGE THINGS IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY. Have you forgotton out there when these people go to retire they can go home to their country and live well? Where are we going? You know only so many people can fit in a boat and then it sinks. Stop trying to sink us. GO HOME!

  • "Anti-ILLEGAL immigrant"

    Geo. Will recently said it best when he said "it is impossible to reason people out of affilations they have not been reasoned into…" The first comment fits. "Anti-ILLEGAL immgrantion" is incorrectly called "anti-immigration" and, therefore, "racist" and not "compassionate". And since "US born" is mixed with "illegals", would the reader send the parents back to "Mexico" and not the kids? I don't want MY Federal taxes going to illegals, breakers of OUR laws! If the writer does, I suggest they "adopt" a family of illegals and either invite them to live with them or pay for their heating, health care, school, etc.! That would be compassionate to those "human beings". THEN, and only then, come back to me….

  • Illegal means Illegal


    Right on. Let those "compassionate" individuals pay the Illegals way. Why are they always trying to get me to pay for their charity?

  • Yale Med Student

    The inhumanity expressed by many of these posts is just sickening.

    These are PEOPLE who found that there were no options to stay afloat at home and so worked VERY hard to come to a place where they might be able to support their families. This is EXACTLY WHAT ANY OF YOU WOULD DO if YOUR family were starving. Are you honestly telling me that you would wait years for the government to "fix" things while your kids went hungry (or worse)?

    Get real, and grow a heart.

    Immigration laws are just above traffic laws when it comes to how "evil" any violations are. If any of your kids were hurt while being "illegal" because they were speeding on the highway, how would YOU act if they were left to die on the pavement because they were "illegal."

    Violating a law does not strip a living person of his or her humanity, especially when anyone would do the same thing in the same situation.

  • Legal Eagle

    States are given a finite amount of money for heating assistance and I know a old woman citizen who went without help because there was no money left.

    Also the Illegals send money to their relatives in their home countries but cannot pay for heating oil ? Does anyone think that is fair ?

    The Illegals have a choice and can go home,American citizens do not and they should get the help Not the IA's.

    It really bothers me that some citizens think Illegals should come before citizens.I consider them traitors to their own country. :(

  • Bobby

    Another story told in the typical liberal screwball fasshion of the East Coast. The picture of the child that is braving the cold, because her families free supply of energy is cut off. Question, why is it that you liberals on the East Coast and elsewhere were never, ever, concerned, neither in the past or present, about the poor American children in the south or in the Appalachian regions, who often went to bed hungry as has been amply documented. I guess you never heard of the phase charity beginns at home. Morons.

  • Ali

    It seems to me that the objection is to the use of tax dollars to pay for services to illegal aliens. It seems to me that the responsibility for providing such services lies with the ethnic and illegal alien advocacy groups. For example, the President of Mexico is here lobbying to "protect the rights of immigrants" but it seems to me it is his RESPONSIBILITY to provide and pay for services for his citizens.

  • Illegal means Illegal

    "These are PEOPLE who found that there were no options to stay afloat at home and so worked VERY hard to come to a place where they might be able to support their families. This is EXACTLY WHAT ANY OF YOU WOULD DO if YOUR family were starving."

    Yale Med - you have fallen hook, line and sinker for this fairy tail about these folks families starving. They come to America so that they can make money to improve the lives of their families, but most of them are far from starving. First, they pay coyotes a ton of money to bring them here, or they use that money to transport themselves to America. Second, they send a majority of the money back home to their families to build bigger homes, they tell you this themselves. Third, again, if you want to be so chartible, then do like a previous poster suggested, adopt one of these families and provide for their needs out of your pocket. Are you ready and willing to do so?

  • Ali

    Yale med student wrote:"These are PEOPLE who found that there were no options to stay afloat at home and so worked VERY hard to come to a place where they might be able to support their families."

    That's the whole point of the article. THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT SUPPORTING THEIR FAMILIES HERE, EITHER. WE ARE! Instead of Mexico providing jobs and services for its citizens, we're expected to do it even when it strains our own social services and displaces our own citizens.

  • The Silent immigrants
    The above url lists the current bulletin for visas. At present, married children of U.S. citizens must wait 7 1/2 - 17 years, to obtain a visa interview. Although, some countries do not need tourist visas to visit the U.S., the above immigrants are sometimes denied tourist visas for fear that they have too much reason to stay as illegal immigrants. Even children of 15 years of age must have an hiv exam and a chest x-ray before being given a visa. Exorbitant fees must be paid. If the visa is denied, the fees are not refunded. Security clearance must be obtained and documents must be filed in sequential order. Any administrative detail can disqualify an applicant. These are the potential immigrants who wait in silence and have to wait in very long lines when and if they get a chance to have a visa interview.

  • Ali

    Ironic, isn't it? Venezuela and its state-owned company CITGO are donating heating oil for US citizens and advertising it heavily on TV. Mexico is a major oil producer and benefiting from sky high oil prices while Americans pay through the nose. Yet, US taxpayers are supposed to provide free heating oil to illegal alien when we can't provide it to our own citizens.

  • Legal Eagle

    Why are American citizens held accountable for the failure of other countries to provide for their citizens ? Maybe "The Richest Man In The World" in MEXICO might want to create more jobs for his fellow citizens.

    I don't like to see people hurting either but do you think allowing everyone who wants to come to America to do so is the a rational idea ? Are we to give up our quality of life,our customs,our language and what we and our forefathers have worked so hard for with their blood sweat and tears and sometimes their lives to take in every hungry person in the world who wants to come here ?

    I belong to a Micro Loan group and we lend money to people in other countries to help them get a business started or to buy some livestock etc..I feel I am doing my part and suggest to others to give a hand.

    A lot of these people do have jobs in their home countries but want to "Live The American Dream" so they abandon their jobs to come here to strike it rich without any thought they are breaking our laws and stealing our identities and our welfare meant for citizns.

    I think I am most angry with employers who want cheap labor so they can get rich on the backs of citizens and the IA's.Dispicable !!

  • Boymom

    If I were to sneak into Mexico, try to get a job and find a place to live, then go seek help paying for my utility bills, do you think I would stand a chance in HECK of actually getting assistance from Mexican welfare programs? Absolutely NOT!! Mexico has very strict laws that they ENFORCE regarding citizenship and aid for non- citizens of their country. I would be arrested and deported immediately!! Why does Mexico expect the United States to accomodate their citizens without extending the same courtesy? When people choose to ignore the laws of another country, they choose the consequence that comes with that choice. In this case, the consequence is that they have to struggle to find a decent place to live and a safe way to care for themselves. I am not without compassion, however, I would prefer that my tax dollars go to those who have rightful claim to the aid before they go to people who are willing to break the law and siphon from the system wihtout putting back into it. The United States contributes more money than any other country in the world to iad other countries. Mexico has an obligation to start taking care of it's own citizens and quit depending on us to do it for them. Is it right for the immigrants to be taken advantage of? No. But if they can't make it here, they do have the option of returning home to Mexico. At no cost to them, I might add. We have fostered an attitude of learned helplessness with Mexico, and now we must show tough love and let them learn how to start functioning on their own. We would not let our child continually ask for help doing things that they are capable of doing themselves, (tie their shoes, go potty, learn to walk, read, write, etc.) and never learn how to take care of themselves, that would be irresponsible parenting. Mexico is like the 18 year old child who refuses to take care of himself because it's too much of a bother to make the effort to do it himself. Well, it's time to cut them loose and they'll either sink or swim. We've all had to come to that point in our lives, as has every functioning country on earth. C'mon folks…it's not about lack of compassion, it's about the Unites States not being sucked dry of it's resources so we can't even take care of our own anymore.

  • Deborah

    It is against the law to aid illegal aliens and well it should be. Now the Feds need to shut down La Raza and similar groups who also aid illelgal aliens with our tax dollars. La Raza alone gets more than 5 million a year of our money and has now asked for another 50 million dollars, OUR TAX MONEY! No wonder our country is bankrupt! Our chlidren and grandchildren will have to pay the bill. is that what you want for your kids? This is happening while more than 23 BILLION dollars a year is sent to Mexico alone by the illegal aliens in this country from Mexico! No, this isn't right. You can't make it right. It's wrong in every way! Illegal aliens must be deported. Our borders must be secured! When America finally rises from the dust of what illegal immigration has done to us we can then think what we might do in the future. Until then, take care of our people and our country before it is destroyed beyond repair!

  • Yale faculty

    Great reporting, well told.

  • uscitizen

    “We’re not robbing anyone,” Martinez says. “The thing is that black people don’t do the work we do. They won’t clean toilets, and we will, for necessity, to support our family in Mexico, and our children.”

    To support her family in Mexico???
    Are US citizens now required to pay the heating costs of those who CHOOSE to allow their children to live in such horrible conditions just because they want to send part of their wages to family members who are NOT currently suffering from freezing temperatures? I guess they think our tax dollars play a very big role in THEIR idea of the "American Dream".

    I am tired of those who think our tax dollars should be used as charitiable donations to anyone who CHOOSES to illegally cross our borders. I have nothing against people giving to a charity of their choice, and strongly advise advocates of illegal immigration to personally pay any health care costs, legal fees, heating bills and all other costs associated with illegal aliens. I say: put up or shut up! Quit trying to make the rest of us pay for your particular charity…we have a right to choose where our tax dollars go, and a great majority of US citizens do not want them going to illegal aliens!

    Personally, I believe the landlord of this apartment should face charges for the deplorable conditions in his apartment building. The illegal aliens should rely on the bleeding heart, open border advocates' charatible donations as their sole means of help and support, while needy US citizens and THEIR children may continue to get assistance through taxpayer provided services intended for them.

  • Yale Med Student


    Your use of the overarching generalization "these people" demonstrates the racism inherent in your argument. All undocumented immigrants are not the same, and most actually do successfully support their families from the U.S. while making rock-bottom wages for jobs citizens refuse to do, enduring years apart from their children for the effort. I actually work with this population on a regular basis - how many undocumented people do YOU really know? What kind of experience allows you to generalize that "these people" lazily live off the system? I would ask the same question of #12 who claims that I have fallen for some "fairy tale." You are mistaken here, not me.

    The truth is that most undocumented immigrants are extremely capable and hard-working - they came here to work. It is almost impossible for the undocumented to live off the system. Non-citizens are not eligible for welfare, housing assistance, medicaid, or pretty much anything. They can get emergency room care because it was seen as cruel and un-American to deny PEOPLE this basic human necessity. Heating assistance is the same way - and this assistance goes to people who are actually paying for heat right now but not buying food because nothing is left over after rent. This whole predicament is created by the ENORMOUS difficulty in finding a job without a social security card. The undocumented also have to deal with the constant fear of deportation and thus cannot involve authorities to protect basic human rights like safety from sexual assault, domestic violence or even street crime.

    #17 posits a situation: "If I were to sneak into Mexico, try to get a job and find a place to live, then go seek help paying for my utility bills…" I would remind this poster (and everybody else) that if his or her family were in danger, he or she WOULD go to Mexico. How would #17 like to be treated? I do unto others as I would have others do unto me. Do you?

  • Paul

    There are many points that need to be made in response to the Yale med student:

    1. Nobody had used the words "lazy" or "lazily" before the student did. So nobody was making that accusation. But someone can be a hard worker and still be a freeloader, and a large fraction of illegal aliens are just that.

    2. The student's anecdotal experiences interacting with illegal aliens amount to sentimentality. They're not a suitable basis for making public policy that will affect millions of people and, in fact, the survival of an entire society (ours). The numbers have been crunched by Robert Rector, formidable public policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. This video, , gives the Cliff's Notes version. Rector has shown that the average household headed by a low-skilled [high school dropout] immigrant or illegal alien consumes about $19,000 per year more in public benefits (schooling, health care, food stamps, …) than it pays in taxes. Given the number of such households, the aggregate expense to the rest of us is many tens of billions of dollars per year. (The full report by Rector is here: )

    3. There are 4.5 billion people in the world poorer than the average Mexican. Desires to rescue suffering humanity must take that fact into account. In short, we could ruin our own country without making a dent in the woes of the world.

    4. What do I mean by "ruin our own country"? Well, if you haven't had the experience of living in southern California, you may find a few paragraphs from an article ("6 + 4 = 1 Tenuous Existence," by Sam Quinones) in the July 28, 2006 Los Angeles Times to be enlightening. These paragraphs, which are really just a sidebar on the appalling main story, concern Alejandra Magdeleno, a Mexican woman who came illegally to California years ago and, somehow, received legal status at some point [perhaps from the 1986 amnesty]:

    "Alejandra was the first to leave. In Los Angeles, she and her husband were barely able to make ends meet. As in Mexico, 'there was little work and it's poorly paid,' she said.

    "Eight years ago, she and her family moved to Kentucky, where a friend said there was more work and were fewer Mexican immigrants bidding down the wages for unskilled jobs.

    "In Kentucky, Alejandra picked tobacco. The work was hard and she didn't know the language. But soon, life improved. Over the years, she invited her siblings to join her. One sister married a man who managed a Golden Corral, a chain of all-you-can-eat buffets. Soon several Magdaleno siblings were working in Golden Corrals. Their husbands found work installing windows and as farm-labor contractors. They went to night school to learn English because few people in Lexington speak Spanish.

    "Today, the Magdalenos in Lexington earn more than they did in Los Angeles, in a city where the cost of living is lower. Kentucky is now their promised land, and they talk about California the way they used to talk about Mexico.

    "'What we weren't able to do in many years in California,' Alejandra said, 'we've done quickly here.

    "'We're in a state where there's nothing but Americans. The police control the streets. It's clean, no gangs. California now resembles Mexico — everyone thinks like in Mexico. California's broken.'"

    So, if a Mexican woman doesn't like what the tsunami from south of the border has done to Los Angeles, why should American citizens be expected to sympathize with the beginnings of the same phenomenon in New Haven?

  • Dawes

    Load them up and deport them to their very warm countries. They won't need heaters.

  • oleskool

    3 generations, through Chinese, European and 1986 Amnesty, my family have tried to survive, house, food and clothes, without assistance. Some of the programs for assistance was used temporarily. It is a falsehood that black Americans will not do certain jobs because they are lazy, etc. 3 generations survived the assault of three invasions through family (including our U.S. Government family) and friends. We pray we can carry on.

  • Khalil

    The assumptions made by the anti-immigrant folk, vigilante and some Yallies alike, are simply false. Here are assumptions vs. facts:

    Myth 1: "Illegal Immigrants" take a free ride on the American Economy. "Illegals" use basic services without paying for them.
    Fact: All undocumented people pay property taxes (You can't say the same for Yale University by the way) through their landlords or through their own private property. And about 70% of UD are required to have false documents by their employers, through which they pay state and federal taxes. SSA reported about 4B of payment from individuals who do not have a real SSN last year. Except for education of children, most UD are too afraid to access any government services. So the facts are the opposite of the assumption: UD pay into system, but don't use basic services.

    Myth 2: "Illegal Aliens" are a net loss to the economy of the U.S.
    Fact: Actually most racists wouldn't put it quite this way, since that is so obviously false, but cariants of this myths pop up in various arguments against immigrants. What is probably more true is that the economy of many cities, states, and perhaps the whole U.S. would collapse if the 16 Million UD were to leave. And you don't ned to take my word on it. Here is the testimony of Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of NYC, to COngress in 2006: "Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders or overstaying their visas, and our businesses broke the law by employing them, our city’s economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would collapse if they were deported. The same holds true for the nation.”" So the notion that-they-need-us-we-don't-need-them is upside down. This is from Yale Prof. Gerald Jaynes's testimony to Congress n 2007: "The most methodologically sound estimates of the net effects of immigration on the nation conclude that the United States, as a whole, benefits from contemporary
    immigration. Properly measured, this conclusion means that during a period of time reasonably long
    enough to allow immigrants to adjust to their new situations, they produce more national income than
    they consume in government services."

    Myth 3: "Illegals" take jobs away from native-born workers, especially blacks.

    Fact: This is not only baseless, but it's only goal is to start up some good old violence between blacks and latinos. And it is being tried in New Haven. What the racists don't tell people is that they are funded by white supremacist groups. The facts are as follows: Jobs that UD take up create other jobs, the way that jobs do. And there isn't a fixed number of jobs in an economy, so this whole notion that one race takes another race's jobs is founded on irrational racist ideas, not fact. Now, why is it that so many blacks are employed, while brown UD are employed? Because this is a deeply racist country, born in slavery, had racist laws for most of its existence, and continues to be sharply divided along race lines. Instead of plantations, we now have prisons, where millions of blacks are taken for "crimes" that whites (including plenty on this campus) do : use, possession, and sale of drugs. Blacks don't get jobs, because white employers don't like blacks. That's what it means to live in a deeply racist country.

    Myth 4: Immigrants come here for a better life.
    Fact: Neoliberalism has destryed the economies of many countries around the globe, leaving hundreds of millions destitute. You don't need to take my word on this, read George Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents. by the way, he was Chief Economic advisor to CLinton, prez of world bank, and nobel prize winner. Neoliberalism, inflicted by U.S. and European governments has been so devestating that people have to leave their families, spend enormous amounts of money on dangerous trips, to come to a place where they often work 16 hours a day and are the targets of racist rhetoric like that on this page or violent attacks by vigilantes. That's not a better life. To understand why people have been moving here in the amounts since the beginning of neoliberalism, you need to understand the effects of our profit-making policies on the rest of the world.

    And I urge the anti-immigrants to stop watching TV, because that's where they hear all the anti-immigrant non-sense. Instead they should actually read books, so they can base their decisions on reality, not on myth and fiction.

  • new haven resident

    This article is irresponsible journalism at its worst. The journalist reaches the conclusion that African Americans despise Latino immigrants who are undocumented by using as a primary source a homeless woman who clearly has mental health issues. What about interviewing African American pastors, teachers, community activists, i.e. leaders who are in touch with their community and can speak to some of these themes with some level of knowledge and insight? Does she have so little respect for the African American community that she thinks this is the best spokesperson to represent them and speak to these issues? In addition to exhibiting contempt for both communities, this speaks to her desperation in supporting a foregone conclusion to sell a sensational story. How shameful. And what a disservice to this city and its residents.

    This article will likely stoke the fire of the anti-immigrant groups and lead to racial discord in the community. And here's the thing to remember: this article will serve to move the student's professional agenda, while causing irreparable damage in New Haven. She will soon graduate, leave the city to work some fancy well paid job and quickly forget about the havoc she has wreaked by writing this horribly inaccurate and misleading article. Yet those of us who live here and work day in and day out with the community will be left to pick up the pieces that this incendiary article will have created.

  • Impressed alum

    This is what journalists are supposed to do. Great work, Catherine Cheney and YDN.

  • awesome article

    New Haven resident, thats great that you are trying to sound smart and all but you need learn what irresponsible journalism really is and then re read this article and realize that it is the polar opposite. This journalist is going to go on and do great things after she graduates and you have no basis on which to personally attack her and the YDN with your comments.

    Great job Catherine! Keep up the good work!

  • Joseph H.

    i have to agree with #26, anybody freezing is a bad thing.But where does Miss Cheney get this Tensions rise between black and spanish etc.??
    flaming and divisive is what that is.
    Yes there are bad Landlords,and yes there tampering from outsiders of furnaces and pipes etc. You have to be diligent about your basements ,they will rob the copper right off of the furnace .
    Another thing is these Hartford appointments of officials who swear they know what's best,but as we read from Newspapers and Television Hartford's a disaster .
    It seems like everyone is to benifit from these Migrating families,Students and their resume,Lawyers who can take that cash off of their hands since they don't like bank accounts,even deportation officials are kept busy,i think the only ones getting the shaft is the Hospitals who can't track them down and deploy mean hateful revenge on those that can be tracked down

  • Yale Grad

    #28 -- Actually your post is absurd. Poster #26 didn't try to sound smart. In fact he/she made very coherent arguments. You seem to believe that this is impossible for someone who is from New Haven (and thus you apparently assume is not at your level or that of Cheney).

    Cheney's article touches on many important issues but is written with so many flaws that it is defenseless.

    She determines that there is racial tension in New Haven because a homeless woman who is mentally ill attributes her standing in society to undocumented immigrants. And you defend this as quality reporting?

    The majority of African-Americans in New Haven are employed, not homeless and lack mental health issues. Would you consider it acceptable to talk to this woman as a primary source on the academic needs of white students who happen to go to Yale? If not, why is she an appropriate source for any other group with which she shares virtually no meaningful characteristics?

    At a minimum, even Cheney should have been able to figure out that this woman did not lose her job to an immigrant.

    It is not good journalism to start with a story you believe to be true, find no facts to support your version, and thus concoct them. You may be right that she will go on to a career in journalism, but this is because those who go to places like Yale get a leg up on others, and generally suffer no repercussions for stepping on people with less opportunity than themselves in order to get ahead.

  • Illegal means Illegal

    I don't care about whether or not they pay taxes, or use government services, or rape, pillage, and destroy. The somple fact is that they are here ILLEGALLY. They are breaking the law. And like all law breakers, they should be arrested and deported. If you want to debate the inhumanity or fairness of their legal status, talk to your congressman. Otherwise, ENFORCE THE LAW.

  • Anonymous

    ydn, take some journalism notes. this is what your features page should always look like. cat cheney, what a winner.

  • Anonymous

    This issue obviously strikes a chord and prompts some passionate dialogue. Kudos to the YDN for tackling something important beyond the campus boundaries. Well done.

  • LALA


    I would suggest that before you call people "morons", you learn how to spell.


    Instead of criticizing a young reporter for stepping out of her box and exploring a world unfamiliar to so many, we should applaud her for shedding light on an issue that many choose to ignore.

    To those who criticize - are you doing anything to resolve the illegal immigrant issues in this country? If their presence here is such an issue for you, then perhaps your time would be better spent researching and presenting your opinion in a rational manner, rather than cowardly slating Ms. Cheney by way of anonymous online comments.

  • chrissi

    these mexicans are just doing what you or the next would. striving for a better life, i love my country, and i love them being here. i have many friends that are hispanic! theyre great people! have a heart! live in there conditions, then you'll see how it is

  • Another Med Student Chimes In

    Great article. Thank you for writing this.

    It has been said before, but I believe it to be the most important argument in this madness:

    Undocumented immigrants are people. Human beings.

    Instead of worrying about who's taking what from whom, we should be talking about why there isn't enough assistance to provide aid to all the families struggling to keep their little ones warm, fed and safe.

    Set your politics and racism aside, and think about what it must be like to bundle up your baby, wondering if they are warm enough through the night, or if their belly is full enough to sustain them.

    We have a responsibility as citizens of the world to care for those in need. And, I am happy to pay taxes to fund public aid.