Over a year ago, city officials called immigration raids that ripped to shreds the stability of the Fair Haven neighborhood “retaliatory” to the city’s passage of the Elm City Resident Card in June 2007.

Yet e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that the timing of the raids may have been relatively innocuous.

The missives — sent between the United States Attorney’s Office in Connecticut and the Immigration & Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security and collected by immigration lawyers over the last few months — were released to the public last week by Junta for Progressive Action, a nonprofit legal organization that originally requested the documents. The e-mails, while partially redacted, imply that the raids were rescheduled from May 2 to June 6 before federal officials realized the Board of Aldermen would vote to approve the card in early June. A week after the raids, one high-level DHS official wrote in an open letter to New Haven residents that the city’s accusation was “outrageous.”

But newly released e-mails also weave a narrative of how federal agencies had tried to “discourage” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. from following through with his and Community Services Administrator Kica Matos’ plans for the card. In these communications, federal agents, such as those from DHS, decried the card — which qualifies as acceptable identification at banks and with the city government — as a national security issue because illegal immigrants can receive one.

The collaborative effort of many federal agencies — including the U.S. State Department and the Department of Justice — against the resident ID card “horrified” Matos because the documents reveal a larger vested involvement by the federal government on the ID card, she said this weekend. Immigration lawyers interviewed said that despite the evidence to the contrary, the documents provide more evidence for the “inference” that the raids were indeed retaliatory.

The e-mails also suggest there was a clear disparity between those whom federal agents were looking for during the raids and those whom they ultimately picked up. Although the federal ICE agents were supposed to arrest several criminals who had illegally immigrated from 18 countries in Asia and South America, agents ultimately arrested many more Ecuadorians and Mexicans than they had been expected to do, according to the e-mails. And although federal officials told each other and the media at the time that the raids were part of the federal “Operation Return to Sender” to round up illegal immigrant fugitives, out of the 29 total raid arrests, only five were on the run from the law.

“The recently released documents aren’t going to conclusively prove that this was a retaliatory raid,” said David Hunter Smith LAW ’10, a student in the Yale Law School Worker & Immigration Rights Advocacy Clinic. “But all this stuff is adding to the inference that it probably was.”

The Clinic has been working on defending those arrested at the raids; co-chair Michael Wishnie LAW ’93, who celebrated his 15th law school reunion this weekend, deferred comment to Smith.

Spokesmen from DHS and USAO were unavailable for comment over the weekend.

No nexus to ICE?

By March 2007, federal agents had started to discuss their reaction to DeStefano’s controversial ID card program.

On March 28, state Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna R. Patel e-mailed state USAO Criminal Division Chief Peter Jongbloed about her conversation with a person, name redacted, about how New Haven was becoming a “sanctuary city” because of the card. She said she would talk to an unnamed person in order to let USAO decide “what, if anything, needs to be done.”

Jongbloed replied the next week, saying that he and Patel should meet “as soon as possible” about the ID cards.

Later, on May 11, Paul Gleason, a legal adviser of ICE’s Office of Principal Legal Advisor, said in a e-mail that he had talked with Jongbloed and Patel about the “headaches” in New Haven. He said that a “brief letter outlining some of the concerns” would be written and sent to the OPLA and the Boston division of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism under the U.S. State Department for review.

And then the national media picked up on the ID card.

The Associated Press reported on the ID card in a May 18 article, thrusting the controversial issue into the national arena. Federal officials hastened their efforts.

“We need to work on getting our letter to the mayor earlier rather than later,” Patel told Carson in a May 21 e-mail. “I will talk to [Jongbloed] about the possibility of releasing the letter publically [sic] so that the Mayor understands the consequences of what he is doing.”

A member of the New Haven field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation forwarded Gleason and ICE attorney John Marley a draft of what “the USAO would want to address with the Mayor of New Haven” on the cards. The FBI agent said in the June 3 e-mail that the letter would be coming from the USAO, “no nexus to ICE,” although Gleason asked the agent the next day whether ICE could review the letter anyway.

On the day of the raids, Jongbloed asked DOJ Criminal Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sigal Mandelker for the DOJ’s “response” to the Elm City Resident Cards. The e-mail did not suggest that Jongbloed knew of the ICE raids that day.

Moreover, Jongbloed made no indication he knew that the raids occurred in a e-mail two days after the incident, when he responded to an FBI agent’s “proposal” for how to “address” DeStefano’s card program.

The communications among federal agencies floored Matos.

“Horrifying, appalled, stunned,” she said on Saturday. “That is really how I felt after going through those documents.”

The contents of the letter also suggested racial profiling to some.

According to a table included in the e-mails, 93 percent of those arrested were Hispanic, even though only 70 percent of those initially targeted by ICE were Hispanic.

“That’s not conclusive proof of racial profiling, but it raises an eyebrow,” Smith said. “It raises suspicions.”

Inconvenient timing

But despite some community members’ concerns about the raids, they do not appear to have been retaliatory, according to two e-mails released under the FOIA decision.

Although previously released federal e-mails say that “Return to Sender” had been delayed from its original date in May to two days after the Board of Alderman’s passage of the card, the e-mails suggest that federal officials realized that the aldermanic approval of the ID card would occur immediately prior to the June raids only after they had rescheduled the operation to that date.

“This operation was originally schedule for May 2, 2007 and the original Operational Plan was sent to HQDRO [Headquarters DRO] on April 20, 2007,” said ICE’s Washington Detention and Removal Division Field Operations Director Mary Loiselle in a June 7 e-mail to her bosses, DRO Director John P. Torres and Acting Director Gary E. Mead. “HQDRO/Fug Ops [Fugitive Operations] requested that we delay the operation from May to June due to changes in policy relative to children. Once we found out about the Municipal Identification Program being promoted at the same time as the new op date, we forwarded an AS Note to HQ prior to commencement of the operation.”

And in an e-mail one week after the raids, DHS Deputy Chief of Staff Adam Isles responded to a letter sent by New Haven residents to President George W. Bush ’68 complaining about the raids, saying that “the only thing that’s outrageous here is the accusation that the operation was retaliatory in nature (i.e., for New Haven’s ID card initiative) … First of all, the operation was apparently approved in early May, a month BEFORE the ID card initiative was blessed.”

Smith said that despite the two e-mails, there is some evidence suggesting that retaliations were at hand.

“It certainly is interesting, even if suspicious,” he added, “that the very same people who are involved … in the raid are also at the very same time engaging in vigorous e-mail discussions about the ID card in which they express and hositility about the ID cards.”

More federal documents will be released this week.