Last October, Manuel Santiago was stabbed to death by muggers on Ferry Street after he cashed his weekly paycheck. Unfortunately, this horrifying incident was only the worst in a string of escalating crimes targeting a systematically under-protected demographic in New Haven. Santiago was an undocumented immigrant who worked in an Elm City bakery, and because he did not have proper working papers or a green card, Santiago, like other undocumented immigrants, could not open a bank account. As a result, immigrants, known as “walking ATMs,” became victims of repeated attacks, leading to an increase in crime affecting the entire city.
Recognizing that New Haven was facing a public safety crisis, City Hall (working with many concerned community groups) proposed the Elm City Resident Card, a municipal identification program providing equal protection and allowing all of the city’s residents to take advantage of certain services. Although undocumented immigrants do not file tax returns, the vast majority pay taxes through employers’ deductions for Social Security, state taxes and sales tax — and besides, all people deserve the most basic rights of safety and security.
Already, thousands of cards have been distributed to New Haven’s residents. But as the city’s community service administrator, Kica Matos, points out, it is imperative that the card does not become a “scarlet letter” for undocumented immigrants. In fact, critics have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the roster of card applicants, possibly to scare off potential beneficiaries. The city has refused to give out this private information, and litigation over the request is pending in the courts. That means everyone in New Haven — including Yale students — needs to sign up for the card, both to express solidarity with the city on this issue of basic human rights and to take the very practical step of protecting some of New Haven’s most vulnerable and persecuted residents.
Much of the city’s immigrant community faces a constant struggle with fear. In fact, only 36 hours after the launch of the Elm City Resident Card, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents descended on New Haven and raided immigrant homes, resulting in 31 arrests and terrorizing the community. But New Haven refused to back down, by both publicly challenging the suspicious timing of the raids and continuing to offer municipal IDs. The city’s open confrontation of ICE stems from the community outcry that followed the raids and the remarkable show of unity within not only the Fair Haven neighborhood but throughout the entire city. Individuals from all backgrounds made a stand at public forums and rallies, expressing their belief that all people have an inalienable right to personal security. You can show your support by registering for your own card.
The card offers Yalies many practical benefits as well. The New Haven Police Department accepts the card as proof of identity, as do a number of banks. It allows the cardholder access to some city services, such as the New Haven Public Library. The card can even pay for parking or function as a debit card for up to $150 at any of 50 stores around town. Any inhabitant of New Haven can get a card: all you need is a government-issued proof of identity (such as a driver’s license or passport) and your Yale ID (or some other way to prove your residency). This week, getting the card will be especially easy: City officials will be on campus in Dwight Hall registering and printing IDs beginning tonight at 7 p.m. and continuing every day through Friday.
Since the program began just over three months ago, already more than 3,000 people have obtained Elm City Resident Cards. By getting a card for yourself, you’ll not only be able to check out library books or pay for parking, but you’ll also show your support for human rights and the entire New Haven community.
Kira Newman and Kate Kraft are sophomores in Silliman College.