For a road typically filled with music jingles, fragrant smells and food vendors, Fair Haven’s Grand Avenue looked vacant — the restaurant table settings untouched, market shelves undisturbed, city sounds muted to low whispers.

It was June 7, a day after the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents entered the predominantly Latino New Haven borough and arrested 32 undocumented immigrants. In fear of further arrests, most residents were staying behind locked doors, bringing economic activity in the neighborhood to a near standstill.

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Just two days before the raids, New Haven had captured national attention by becoming the first American city to issue municipal ID cards to all city residents, regardless of their citizenship status. While the DHS described the arrests as routine, others said the mere 36 hours separating the raids and the ID program’s passage could not have been a coincidence.

Following the incident, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. called the DHS raids an act of “retaliation” against the ID card program and criticized federal agents for breaching constitutional law and federal protocol. Although ICE officers entered the city under “Operation Return to Sender” in order to issue deportation warrants, only five of the 32 undocumented immigrants they arrested were on ICE’s list of 33 “fugitive aliens.” The other 27 detainees did not have any warrants issued for their arrest.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman William R. “Russ” Knocke disputed the mayor’s claims.

“When you have a local official that makes the suggestion that an enforcement action is somehow correlated to the political views or policies of a community, it’s just bogus,” he said. “That’s not at all how it works, and it’s not even close to grasping the sophistication and the planning that goes into an ICE enforcement action.”

According to a City Hall statement citing sworn witness testimony, ICE agents produced no warrants when entering and searching homes, failed to obtain the proper consent from residents when entering residences, and failed to identify themselves with badges or paperwork. Local police officials heard nothing about the raid until an hour and a half after it commenced, contrary to requirements that they be informed in advance.

The document also cites instances of racial profiling and psychological trauma suffered by children who witnessed officers yelling at, intimidating, handcuffing and removing their parents.

But in a June 14 letter to Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff wrote that on June 6 ICE “Fugitive Operations Teams” never entered homes without consent. Chertoff also wrote that agents made substantial efforts to protect the children they encountered in Fair Haven.

The document explains FOT strategies: “Fugitives” who are a “threat to national security,” “pose a threat to the community,” “were convicted of violent crimes,” “have criminal non-records,” or are “non-criminal” must be prioritized for removal, in decreasing order. Chertoff also dismissed the notion that agents who entered homes asking for papers had violated the Fourth Amendment.

“A warrant is not necessary when arresting someone who is in the country illegally,” the statement reads.

Although the city of New Haven requested on June 11 that ICE agents halt incursions into the city until the federal agency completes an internal investigation into the conduct of the raids, ICE entered North Haven the very same day and arrested three more people, DeStefano spokesperson Jessica Mayorga said.

Since that day, however, “They’ve been responsive in our request, and it is our understanding that they are taking our request responsibly,” she said.

Searching for information

Represented by Yale Law School students under the supervision of professor Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93, JUNTA for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Accion filed suit against the DHS on August 10, alleging that the DHS failed to respond in a timely manner to two June 26 Freedom of Information Act requests.

The two immigrant rights organizations sought records concerning the planning of the raids as well as agency memoranda mentioning the municipal ID program. They received no response within the 20-day response time frame mandated under federal FOIA law.

“Unfortunately, it’s very common for Homeland Security to not comply with the timelines [set by Congress],” Wishnie said. “It’s very common that the requesters of the documents would go to the courts to compel [Homeland Security] to produce the documents.”

The DHS said they would hand over the desired documents by September, Wishnie said, after conducting a review of papers pertinent to the FOIA requests. The agency is allowed to keep or release any documents it chooses to but must provide an index or summary of the documents it withholds.

“They might find 200 pages of records that they agree are responsive to our request, and they may review them and decide that they will release five of those pages,” he said. “Then we would contest that, and it would be up to the judge, not the agency, to decide whether to release [the documents].”

Wishnie said he is confident the documentation that surfaces in September will reveal that local political tensions triggered the raids.

“I agree with the mayor, I believe the evidence will show that these raids were politically motivated by a desire by local ICE officials, not senior ICE officials in Washington,” he said. “I think local officials out at the Hartford office in ICE were retaliating for the city’s adoption of the municipal ID program and other immigrant-friendly measures.”

The Hartford and New England ICE offices could not be reached for comment this week.

All 27 of those arrested on June 6 without deportation warrants qualified for bond immediately following the raids, in addition to another man who posted bond after a judge deemed his deportation order invalid. In most of the 28 cases, YLS students were able to reduce the required bond amounts in court.

Three of the other four individuals who were arrested in accordance with deportation orders are still being held, two in Western Massachusetts and one in Maine. They have been ruled to be ineligible for bond, decisions currently under challenge from students at the YLS clinic. One man arrested in Fair Haven has already been deported to Ecuador, which YLS students deemed legal due to the circumstances of his deportation order, Wishnie said.

JUNTA Program Director for Economic Development Laura Huizar ’06 said the detainees were able to post bond thanks to contributions from family members as well as businesses and citizens both local and distant. The bonds required ranged from $1,500 to $25,000, Wishnie said.

Law students filed the paperwork and represented residents in court, Stella Burch GRD ’09 said, but “the community did everything else. They did a food pantry, they raised the money, they stayed up late at night translating for us … They did whatever they could to support us and support the community. It was truly amazing.”

A long alliance

Law School students have long been involved as advocates for immigrant rights in New Haven.

In 2005, students at the school’s Community Lawyering Clinic released a report titled “A City to Model,” containing six proposals seeking to “protect public safety” and “improve relationships between immigrant communities and the City of New Haven.”

Three of the six suggestions have since been implemented: notifying New Haven financial institutions that customers are not required by law to present social security numbers to open bank accounts; asking the New Haven Police Department not to enforce federal immigration laws; and starting a municipal ID card program.

Municipal ID cardholders can open bank accounts, debit up to $150 in purchases from 50 local stores and benefit from library and automobile privileges.

City Hall policy analyst Emily Byrne said much of the opposition to the municipal ID card program, prior to its passage, stemmed from a group named Southern Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Reform. During the period when the program was under review for aldermanic approval, she said, the group distributed leaflets in New Haven neighborhoods, especially African-American ones, opposing the ID card plan.

In a document titled “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: Banking on Politics,” the group wrote that the card “serves little purpose for the illegal aliens” and risks their “exposure” because cardholder information can be subpoenaed by a federal court.

The document also characterizes the ID card as a ploy to reap financial benefits for the First City Bank, a for-profit bank started by the non-profit First City Fund Corporation, which counts a number of Yale faculty and Mayor DeStefano among its board of directors.

Residents with municipal ID cards — which were funded by the First City Fund Corporation — would become part of an “innovative, exclusive, and lucrative marketing list of First City Bank,” the document reads.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also puts “Yale” in bold, underlined and all-caps text wherever the name is mentioned.

“Do the mayor and YALE have the right to conduct a social experiment with this money?” the document asks. “Is it a coincidence that the board is comprised of the mayor’s friends, neutered enemies, and members of the YALE team that helped him secure the money?”

Municipal ID card applications do not ask whether the card-seeker has U.S. citizenship, but the forms do caution that cardholder “information may be subject to release if compelled by a court of competent jurisdiction or otherwise required by law.”

This is possible, Wishnie said, but despite the risks that undocumented immigrants face in providing information, they continue to participate in federal and state programs.

As of now, two New Haven banks accept the municipal ID card, in addition to the yet-to-be-opened First City Bank. Thus, ID cardholders will not necessarily bring business to the First City Bank, Wishnie said.

“[The group’s argument] is quite an interesting claim that is in no way truthful,” Mayorga said. “It is hard to believe that any organization would try to pull something like that off.”

Byrne estimates that 3,000 cards have been issued since the IDs became available in July, surpassing city government assessments that the 3,000 benchmark could only be reached by July 2008.