New Haven got a boost Tuesday in its battle to keep private the personal information of Elm City Resident Card holders.
Following a decision Tuesday by the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission that paved the way for them to intervene, the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and a New York City law firm have announced that they will testify on behalf of the city of New Haven as it attempts to fend off a lawsuit demanding the release of information on Elm City Resident Card holders.
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In a letter to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. dated Feb. 15, DEMHS Commissioner James Thomas lent support to the city’s decision not to disclose the names, addresses and photographs of cardholders to Dustin Gold, chief strategist of the anti-illegal-immigrant Community Watchdog Project, and Chris Powell, the managing editor of Connecticut’s Journal Inquirer. The Fried Frank law firm will also represent the Association of Elm City Cardholders, several local community groups and a number of anonymous individuals.
Gold and Powell filed separate FOIA requests in September because they said they wanted to deter New Haven residents from applying for the cards, which are available to all residents regardless of immigration status.
The Commission’s decision to allow DEMHS and the law firm of Fried Frank to intervene — which Gold contested, to no avail — came on the first day of hearings in Gold and Powell’s FOIA suit against New Haven, which they filed after the city declined to release the list of names, citing concerns about privacy and public safety.
Appearing at the hearing for Gold was Michael Hethmon of the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, D.C., who was also approved as a representative. Gold said Hethmon will argue the constitutional aspects of his case to support Gold’s argument that the card illegally sanctions undocumented immigrants.
The city’s decision to withhold the names — reinforced by a DEMHS mandate Thomas included in his letter last month — will remain in effect unless it is overturned by the Commission, City Hall Community Service Administrator Kica Matos said.
“[Thomas] directed the mayor not to release the names and addresses of Elm City Card recipients,” Matos said. “It was a blanket order that he not release the information that we have.”
Kathleen Foster, the city’s legal representation at Tuesday’s hearing, said Thomas issued the mandate for the sake of maintaining public safety. According to Thomas’ letter, a proliferation of threats posted online and sent to city leaders in the mail against undocumented immigrants and their supporters led him to support the mayor’s decision to keep cardholders’ information confidential.
The letter lists several examples of threats suggestive of public-safety concerns, such as an e-mail sent to city employee Len Aronow that warned, “When they show up for an ID card shoot them dead or at least deport them immediately.”
But Gold focused on what he called the unconstitutional nature of the Elm City Resident Card program, suggesting that the concerns about public-safety threats described by city officials are unwarranted.
Gold said DEMHS will be represented at the hearings by Assistant Attorney General Steven Strom, and attorneys from the Fried Frank law firm will also participate in the hearings. He said he protested the intervention at the hearing, but his motions were rejected.
“We filed four motions, one which was to try to stop the commissioner from intervening, to stop the law firm from New York from intervening, and we filed a few other motions,” Gold said.
Khalil Iskarous, a representative of Unidad Latina en Accion, a community group working to block the FOIA request, attended the hearing. Despite Gold and Powell’s attempts to prevent the involvement of outside groups, community groups have legitimate concerns about the release of the names that justify their involvement, Iskarous said.
“For a long time, people saw the program as just something about the city, but I think the involvement of the … state attorney’s office is an indication that there are real issues of safety, privacy, that are being involved in this case,” he said.
Ann Gimmartino, an acting clerk for the FOIC, said the hearings may go on for several months — but a final decision must be reached by Sept. 17, a year after the suit was first filed. Matos said the hearing will continue on March 31 and April 11, beginning with testimony from Gold and Powell.