Less than 36 hours after the New Haven passed the nation’s first-ever municipal ID program, giving all city residents identification regardless of citizenship status, federal agents entered New Haven with 16 deportation orders for undocumented immigrants.

By the end of the day, the Department of Homeland Security agents had driven off from New Haven’s predominantly Latino Fair Haven neighborhood with five of the 16 they wanted, in addition to 27 “fugitive aliens” who had never faced a deportation order.

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The hubbub surrounding the June 2007 raids, which sparked media coverage in the United States and abroad, fueled a heated debate that stretched from local concerns about the legality of the ID program to the national discourse over immigration policy reform. This month, Yale Law School attorneys sued DHS for more information about the planning and timing of the raids.

Immediately following the incident, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. criticized federal agents on the grounds of racial profiling, unnecessarily traumatizing children and violating constitutional law and federal protocol. Agents had entered the predominantly Latino borough under the pretense of arresting those with deportation orders, but took advantage of the situation to carry out a political agenda, DeStefano said.

“The City of New Haven is concerned about a number of issues related to the raid, including the possibility that the raids were in retaliation against the city and its political leadership because ICE disapproved of a local measure designed to integrate all residents, regardless of immigration status, into the fabric of civic life,” DeStefano said in a press release.

The municipal ID program allows all New Haven residents access to public libraries, bank accounts and automobile privileges. The card has been especially championed by communities concerned about the increase in theft and assault affecting undocumented immigrants, many of whom are forced to carry large amounts of cash because they cannot open bank accounts without some form of government ID.

In New Haven, it became apparent that both documented and undocumented immigrants would be targets for such crimes, DeStefano spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said. From a glance, she said, thieves can never be sure whether a victim is documented, so anyone who looked like they were carrying money was vulnerable.

“We do know that a lot of people who looked like they had just maybe gotten a paycheck had been targeted, and I’m sure racial profiling was a part of it too,” JUNTA Program Director for Economic Development Laura Huizar ’06 said.

Yale Law School clinic attorneys, on behalf of immigrant advocacy groups JUNTA and Unidad Latina en Accion, filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security on August 10 after the department failed to respond in a timely manner to two Freedom of Information Act requests. Under federal law, the department has 20 days to respond to requests, which in this case sought internal records concerning the planning of the raids and any memoranda mentioning New Haven’s municipal ID program.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a June 14 letter addressed to Connecticut Representative Rosa L. DeLauro and Senators Chris Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, said agents had not violated the law in entering and searching Fair Haven homes.

“I want to emphasize that it is not our policy for FOTs to conduct ‘raids,’ or take an ad hoc approach to enforcing immigration law; rather, the policy is to focus their efforts on specific fugitive aliens and specific locations,” Chertoff said.

In the few days preceding the raids, Huizar said, undocumented immigrants were afraid of leaving their houses, going to work and sending their children to school. Weeks later, however, many of the fears they developed after June 6 diminished in the wake of an outpouring of community support from businesses, citizens and the city government.

Twenty-nine of the 32 detained are out on bond put up with family funds and donations from community members and employers. Over 1,000 people gathered at the Santa Rosa de Lima church a week after the raids to rally in support of the ID card and families affected by the ICE incursion.

“When this community started telling [undocumented immigrants] that they were here to question what had happened,” Huizar said, “in some ways life went back to normal.”