City may keep names of ID-card holders private, FOIC rules

After a marathon of hearings and testimony before the state Freedom of Information Commission that began in March, the city’s decision not to disclose the identities of Elm City Resident Card holders was validated in a tentative decision released by a member of the panel on Wednesday.

Journalist Chris Powell and Dustin Gold, who launched the anti-illegal-immigrant Community Watchdog Project, have sought to force the city to release the names, addresses and photos of all city residents who signed up for an ID card. But in the proposed report, Commissioner Sheldon London found that the city had met its burden of proof for keeping the identities of the more than 5,000 residents private. Gold said he will contest that ruling, and he thinks the full commission may find London’s reasoning faulty when it meets next month.

London, citing violent anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic rhetoric and threats that the city had presented as evidence, wrote that the release of the documents would constitute a danger to public safety.

“It is found that the city received some communications that clearly incited violence against holders of the ID card and anyone associated with the ID card,” the report reads.

One e-mail sent to a city official last July that was cited by London read: “When they show up for an ID card shoot them dead or at least deport them immediately!”

The tentative decision also referred to a comment on the Web site of the New Haven Independent in which the author promised to “hunt down” any immigrant identifiable through the Elm City ID program.

Ultimately, the decision concludes that neither the city of New Haven nor the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which supported the city’s claim, violated the law by refusing to release the documents.

The city applauded the ruling.

“I’d like to thank the FOI Commission for recognizing the safety threat that would be posed by releasing the information of individuals involved,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “That said, it’s time for America to come together around a consensus on immigration policy.”

More immediately, though, the decision allows the city to once again focus on promoting the ID-card program, rather than defending it. Community members no longer need to worry about their privacy, the city’s community services administrator said.

“New Haven residents should feel comfortable coming down to City Hall to apply for their Elm City Resident Card with the confidence that their information will be kept safe and secure,” Kica Matos said in the press release.

The program began last July as part of an effort by the city to help incorporate undocumented immigrants into the New Haven community. But the program is not specifically limited to recent immigrants, and the city has gone into churches, senior centers and local high schools to attempt to enroll residents.

The card, which can function as a debit card, provides discounts at local businesses, while also providing access to city services such as the library, the beach and parking meters.

City officials also consider it a public-safety measure, as they have argued that criminals had increasingly begun preying on undocumented immigrants forced to carry large amounts of cash because they did not have access to financial services.

Now, the card can be used as a second form of identification at local banks, allowing immigrants to open bank accounts, as well as storing money with a debit function.

The final ruling will be issued after a short hearing on July 9, at which the full FOI commission will be present, but at which no new evidence can be presented.

Gold said he plans to argue at the final hearing that the ruling is flawed and does not take into account FOIC precedent.

“There had to be a final decision by September, or statue of limitation would have run out,” Gold said.

With regard to the July 9 hearing, he said: “I think we will be able to talk more about the law.”

But even if the full commission affirms London’s ruling, the CWP activist said, his effort to have the names released will not cease.

“We’ll appeal it to Superior Court,” Gold said.

The ruling did, however, conclude that the city had violated one technical portion of the Freedom of Information Act. While it had contacted the Department of Public Works regarding its intention not to disclose the documents, it failed to do so “prompty,” as required by law, according to the Commission.

London ordered that the city be more expedient in contacting the Department of Public Works in the future.

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