A spokesman for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. denied reports published Monday in local and national newspapers that New Haven City Hall planned to issue identification cards to illegal immigrants.
Both the New Haven Register and Associated Press said DeStefano wanted to give illegal immigrants legitimate identification that would allow them to open bank accounts and gain access to social services, an idea prompted by alleged comments during a Monday press conference, New Haven Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Smuts ’01 said.
“Today’s New Haven Register story incorrectly announced that the city was issuing identification cards to undocumented immigrants residing in the city,” a statement released by the Mayor’s Office yesterday said. “The city is not issuing such cards nor is there a plan to do so.”
Smuts said the ID card concept was mentioned during the Monday meeting.
“It’s an idea like many, many other ideas that don’t end up making it through to fruition,” Smuts said. “We’re looking at the ID card concept, but we’re not planning on doing it. It’s not close to being decided yet.”
The question of legitimizing illegal New Haven immigrants first emerged in June following a resolution submitted by the New Haven Peace Commission, New Haven Peace Commission Chairman Alfred Marder said. The document, he said, urged the Board of Aldermen to “hold a public hearing to examine the status of immigrants in New Haven and ways the City of New Haven can ameliorate conditions creating such an atmosphere of fear.”
Marder said many illegal immigrants in New Haven are unable to open bank accounts due to a lack of identification papers and tend to carry large amounts of cash on them, which could make them more tempting targets for robbers.
“Identification cards would therefore allow these people to carry less cash at any one time and would reduce crime at the same time,” he said.
The Board of Aldermen is willing to address the status of immigrants, Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said. But some aldermen have expressed reservations regarding the proposed ID cards, saying that they may allow the government to discover the identities of card-holders.
“There are two sides to the issue,” Lee said. “Some immigrants say they need them to open bank accounts and gain access to social services, but then someone might say that it’s a way for the city and federal governments to keep track of them. The idea is to help these people [and] I believe the proposal can be improved on.”
With the local aldermanic elections just a few weeks away, the question of the status of immigrants may well become a major campaign issue, said Ward 1 candidate Nick Shalek ’05, who has already voiced his support of the measure.
“There is a large portion of the New Haven population that does not have identification papers but is hard-working and ought to be recognized,” Shalek said. “I think therefore that ID cards are a step forward.”
But current Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 said there should be measures to facilitate illegal immigrants’ attempts to acquire citizenship.
“We need to make it faster for people to get citizenship,” Livengood said. “People are better served with citizenship and can pay taxes for their work. I think we need to examine [the proposal] more and make sure that it best serves the interests of the people concerned.”
While the issue of ID cards still remains controversial, some suggestions made by the peace commission have already been met. DeStefano announced on Monday plans to make City Hall more accessible to people with language impediments, Smuts said. This effort is part of the Hablamos Espanol Initiative, which aims to make City Hall more accessible to Spanish speaking residents.
Marder said the peace commission believes that such measures ought to be applied to the New Haven Police Department by placing Spanish speaking officers on patrol. He also said bilingual officers should be available by phone 24 hours a day. Despite some concerns, Marder said he has confidence in the Board of Aldermen.
“I think we have a board that is pretty understanding of the problems of immigration [and] I am confident that some sort of solution will be found,” he said.