Community Services Administrator Kica Matos presented a death threat she received as evidence of the danger of a forced disclosure, by the city of New Haven to the public, of the identities of residents who have obtained Elm City Resident Cards at last Friday’s Freedom of Information Commission hearing on the matter.
Matos, who helped design the ID card program, testified about the many violent and racist e-mails she received after the program’s implementation, including a death threat that police officers turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The affidavit she filed before the commission in December 2007 notes that, if the city is forced to disclose identities, other individuals could be targeted as she has been. Meanwhile, an expert witness for the plaintiffs argued there is no evidence the ID cards would be an effective public-safety tool.
Dustin Gold, founder of the anti-illegal immigration Community Watchdog Project, and Chris Powell, managing editor of the Meriden Journal Inquirer, have sought to force the city to release the names and addresses of the more than 5,500 New Haven residents who have ID cards. Last fall, Powell said he was aware that the disclosure could force the city to cancel the program.
In response to the request, the city has argued that releasing this information would put undocumented immigrants, who have the card, at risk of harassment or violent attack.
Speaking at Friday’s hearing, Matos said, for a period after she received a death threat in July 2007, she was afraid to be alone outside and, even now, she will not use the City Hall garage on weekends because there are no security guards, the New Haven Register reported Saturday.
“Your commit treason by promoting an enemy invasion,” the e-mail threat stated, according to her affidavit. “You need to be taken by the United States citizens and killed as the enemy to this nation that you are.”
Commissioner Sherman London noted the seriousness of the letter.
“That’s a death threat,” the London said to the Register.
Matos said she found out about the letter after police informed her that her former workplace, Junta for Progressive Action, had received the e-mail.
The e-mail was one of many angry attacks Matos received. Many other attacks included in the affidavit, in addition to targeting Matos, threatened illegal immigrants in general.
“[I]llegals should and will be put to death,” another e-mail cited in her affidavit reads.
Matos stated in her affidavit that disclosure of the names, addresses and photographs of individuals who obtained the ID card would put them in danger from the same types of people who sent threats to her and other city officials.
While working at JUNTA, Matos co-wrote the ID card program proposal as part of a report entitled “A City to Model,” which put forth ways of improving public safety and the relationship between the city and immigrant communities.
James Thomas, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, has supported the city’s claim that releasing the data creates a public safety risk, and that the program serves a public safety purpose in its own right, detailing the reasons in a Feb. 15 letter to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
“I hereby direct you to withhold the exempt records from the requesting parties in this matter,” Thomas wrote to the mayor.
Meanwhile, James Johnston, a retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervisor, backed Gold and Powell and testified before the FOIA commission April 11 that he did not consider the e-mails to be serious threats.
Jessica Vaughan, a policy analyst for the Center of Immigration Studies, took the stand for the plaintiffs Friday. According to the Register, Vaughan argued that the ID program actually poses a danger because people could create fake identities.
Gold said Sunday her “expert testimony” was based on national immigration studies on crimes committed against Hispanic immigrants. The studies demonstrate that the cards do not necessarily keep immigrants safer, she said.
“She talked about the lack of statistics, of baselines studies by the City of New Haven before coming up with the ID card program,” which would have allowed the city to show whether the cards would actually be effective, Gold said.
Matos told the News in October 2007 that the ID program was created out of necessity, given the lack of federal immigration legislation. Undocumented immigrants account for nearly 10 percent of the city’s population, and Matos and other officials have noted they are often targets for criminals because they are more likely not to have bank accounts, and thus to carry cash.
“We didn’t do it to be trendy or to be different,” the Register reported her as saying Friday at the hearing. “We thought it would be a practical way to try to address public safety issues and help immigrants to integrate into the life of the city.”
The card is currently accepted by four banks in the city of New Haven as a secondary form of identification to open a personal checking account. It can also be used to store money for parking meters and as a library card.
The fifth and sixth hearings of the case are scheduled for May 6 and May 19 in Hartford.