City aims to expand ID card program

Five years after the creation of the Elm City Resident Card and the controversy it generated, City Hall is seeking to expand the program, which provides identification and access to financial services for New Haven residents.

In a Wednesday afternoon press conference at JUNTA for Progressive Action, a New Haven-based Latino rights advocacy organization, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced a survey designed to gauge the Elm City Resident Card’s success and plan for its future expansion. The survey, available on the city’s website and on social media platforms, asks respondents what functions New Haven residents would most like to see on future versions of the card — which is intended to improve the quality of life of the city’s undocumented population — including the possibility of its use as a debit card.

“We’re announcing today a survey as we go into the next several years of the program to ask folks who have or who don’t have the card how they used it, how it’s been meaningful and how we might best apply it in the future,” DeStefano said. “One of the areas we’re going to explore as part of this is access to financial services, basic core banking services as well, and part of the purpose of the survey is to gauge the level of interest and use for that.”

Over 10,000 Elm City Resident Cards have been issued since the program’s inception in 2007. According to City Hall, card holders have used the card to open bank accounts, cash check, apply for jobs, use public transit, interact with utility companies and even obtain a Costco membership.

Also at the press conference was Daniel Diaz, a New Haven Public Schools Parent Advocate who works with the New Haven Board of Education. Diaz said the card took on a greater significance in the wake of President Barack Obama’s June executive order halting deportation for young undocumented immigrants. Under the new policy, young undocumented residents can receive “deferred action,” which provides them with protection from deportation and work permits for two years with the possibility of renewal.

“Students … are using them as a form of identification, especially a lot of those who are applying for deferred action,” Diaz said. “They’re asking for identification when they get the waivers, so it’s a great card to have.”

The survey will remain available throughout October, DeStefano said, and the consulting group managing the survey is aiming for a response rate of at least 300. City Hall, though, hopes to achieve a response rate of several thousand people, DeStefano said.

The Elm City Resident Card initiative sparked nationwide controversy when it was first approved by the Board of Aldermen. With the cards, undocumented residents could borrow library books, pay parking meters and open bank accounts. The cards, which grew from a desire to protect New Haven’s undocumented residents who had been easy robbery targets due to their inability to deposit money, were popular within New Haven, but criticized nationally for being overly friendly to illegal immigrants.

Less than two days after the initiative passed, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided Fair Haven — home to the majority of New Haven’s undocumented immigrants — and detained 29 individuals that the agency said were in the country illegally. Kica Matos, who was New Haven’s community services administrator at the time, said after the raids that she thought they were conducted in direct response to the board’s passage of the card plan.

Earlier this year saw the passage of an federal deportation program in which local police fingerprint records are automatically shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which can send a request to local police to detain the offender if federal agents suspect he or she is undocumented.

Despite resistance from City Hall and from several governors including Connecticut’s, who say Secure Communities destroys the trust between police and immigrant communities, the program has been used to deport Connecticut residents since it was implemented in the state last winter — including more than a dozen in New Haven.

At Wednesday’s press conference, DeStefano stressed the importance of the Elm City Resident Card in making New Haven a city that welcomes everyone, including undocumented residents.

“Five years ago, the city made a powerful statement about what it means to be an open and welcoming community,” he said. “With the creation of the Elm City Resident Card, we chose to define our community not by failed federal immigration policies, but instead by what we know and see every day.”

Secure Communities has led to 277 deportations in Connecticut as of Sept. 10.

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