June 5, 2007
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer
NEW HAVEN -- The board of aldermen overwhelming approved Monday a municipal identification card that will be available to all residents, including illegal immigrants, making the city the first in the nation to issue such documents, city leaders said.
Supporters, who have worked on the plan for more than two years, thought they had 20 solid votes on the 30-member board, but walked away with a 25-1 victory.
As the vote was announced in the aldermanic chambers, the packed room erupted in applause, then a standing ovation, then a chant of "si, se puede" - yes, we can - the phrase two aldermen used earlier in voting for the ID cards.
The need for the IDs has been cast as symbolic and pragmatic. Supporters argued that liberal New Haven had a moral obligation to extend a welcoming hand to undocumented immigrants.
"Tonight, New Haven took a stance in support of human rights and justice and that feels really good," said a tearful Kica Matos, administrator of the community services department. Matos spearheaded the effort for the administration of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
City officials also wanted to respond to the growing number of robberies of illegal immigrants, who often carry cash or keep it in their homes because they cannot open bank accounts without official identification.
One of the immigrant parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Fair Haven was stabbed to death last year when he resisted a robber, the Rev. Jim Manship said. The IDs will instantly make immigrants safer because the cards also are a limited debit card, accepted at about 50 local businesses, Manship said.
Manship and about 100 of his parishioners walked behind a poster of the Virgin of Guadalupe as they entered the aldermanic chamber to show their support for the ID cards.
"When folks are living in fear, are cowering, their dignity is being denied," Manship said.
Several aldermen said New Haven - like an increasing number of communities around the country - was forced to find solutions because of the federal government's inaction on immigration reform.
The IDs, which will be available in early July, also are intended to benefit the elderly, students and children. Elderly residents who no longer have driver's licenses would be able to use it and parents could choose to have emergency information included on a child's card.
The card, which has yet to be designed, expands on the city's Parcxmart system, which allows people to pay downtown parking meters with a swipe of a card.
The new card would cost $10 for adults and $5 for children and the program would be paid for with a $237,000 grant from the First City Fund Corp.
Republican Arlene DePino, the only alderman to vote against the program, said issuing IDs to illegal immigrants could encourage more to move to New Haven, putting pressure on services such as schools and hospitals.
"I don't want to burden the already overburdened New Haven taxpayer," she said.
Two small anti-illegal immigration groups outside the city distributed fliers and sent e-mails condemning the plan. Supporters said it appeared the groups tried to appeal to African Americans, which may have backfired because of the content of the fliers.
One flier warned of murders and rapes by illegal immigrants.
"We cannot allow the seeds of racism, the seeds of bias, to be planted in our community to grow again and again," said Alderman Yusuf I. Shaw.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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