Outside New Haven City Hall on Saturday morning, anti-illegal-immigrant speeches dueled with blaring Latino music for the attention of passersby.
Inside, dozens of families, many of them with young children, celebrated a city-sponsored “Family Day.”
The festivities — including art displays, food, raffles, music and community-organization tabling — were an outgrowth of the city’s efforts, through the Elm City Resident Card, to reach out to what it considers often-marginalized segments of the community, regardless of their immigration status. Attendees at Family Day could apply for a card, which provides access to various city services. There are currently has about 6,500 cardholders in New Haven.
Officials billed the morning event as a chance to bring city residents together. But on the sidewalk outside, about 20 protestors, mostly members of the Connecticut-based Community Watchdog Project, gathered to decry the city’s support of illegal immigrants — and, symbolically, the Mexican flag that waved across the street on the Green, they said.
“This is an opportunity to include the entire community,” said Kica Matos, the city’s community services administrator, at the start of the morning event. “And [the protestors] have come to peddle their hate on a day we are celebrating the community.”
Northford resident Dustin Gold, the Community Watchdog Project’s chief strategist, dismissed the city’s criticism out of hand, saying the mayor and city officials resort to “name-calling” because they are “unwilling to publicly debate.”
As the mayor wandered around the various community booths, he touted the ability of the ID card to offer access to financial services for immigrants and others without bank accounts. He did not bother to elaborate on the protestors outside, simply contrasting the city’s support of “families” and the CWP’s message of “hate.”
“None of them live in New Haven,” DeStefano said of the protestors. “I treat them the way they deserve to be treated: I ignore them.”
At least 100 city residents, also ignoring the commotion outside, wandered among booths, admiring the art and receiving information, for example, about HAVEN Free Clinic, which provides free health services to the Fair Haven community. Toddlers lined up to have their faces painted by local Girl Scouts.
On the second-floor balcony of City Hall, the Taubl family of New Haven, who competed on reality show “America’s Got Talent,” played popular tunes for those below.
Meanwhile, protestors listened to a docket of speeches that criticized the city and DeStefano.
Those who spoke included Republican District 1 Congressional candidate Joe Visconti, from the Hartford area, who said illegal immigrants “steal jobs” from U.S. citizens. The e-mail promotion for the CWP demonstration also claimed illegal immigrants are costing the city millions in services.
The Internal Revenue Services provides Temporary Identification Numbers, allowing undocumented workers to pay income taxes without a Social Security Number. The city’s primary source of income is property taxes, whose payment is not dependant on immigration status.
But no more than 30 feet from the lectern set up by the CWP in front of City Hall, the pro-immigrant-rights organization Unidad Latina en Acción made sure its voice was heard as well — or, at least, its music.
Just over half a dozen activists beat drums and strummed guitars into a bullhorn, drowning out some of the anti-immigrant activists’ speeches. They passed out flyers warning of the CWP’s “shameless tactics” and connections with other anti-immigrant groups. At times, they danced the salsa.
“We wanted to let … the community watchdog organization know that we will not stay quiet,” Unidad Latina organizer John Lugo said a short while later, after wandering inside City Hall. “This ID card, it’s for everyone. But [the CWP] is coming to New Haven to try to divide the community and spread economic lies. One reason the city is growing is because immigrants are opening up new businesses.”
In earshot of the deafening music, many of the CWP speakers chose to shorten their remarks and simply pass out the planned speeches to the media present; few could hear anything.
Gold said the relatively limited number of people who came to the CWP event did not bother him.
“You never get good turnouts,” Gold said. “The important thing is to get voters to make a good choice … and vote against DeStefano.”
Close to noon, the CWP group crossed over to the Green in order to say the Pledge of Allegiance under the American flag.
Remarking on the Mexican flag that flew beneath the American flag — raised as part of the Mexican Independence Day celebration from the previous week — one protestor remarked: “It’s sickening.”
Gold led the group in the pledge while a local channel 61 FOX News-affiliate cameraman filmed them. After they finished, the cameraman asked them to repeat it so that he could get a better shot, panning each face in turn while they recited it again.
As the CWP packed up, demonstrator James Farley, who identified himself as the former Web master for Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who ran a failed 2008 presidential campaign on an anti-illegal-immigration platform, explained that “the elites of this country want to force us to integrate into a North American Union,” even, he said, as the Mexican government assists drug smugglers into the United States along the southern border.
Back inside, as the Family Day celebration wound down, Lois Baker and husband Dwight filled out the paperwork to obtain Elm City ID cards.
“I saw [the event] on TV, and I thought it would be a good day to go down and sign up,” Baker said. “Declare a little solidarity with what’s going on.”