I'm talking about the federal roundup of illegal immigrants last week in New Haven, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began banging on doors at 5:30 a.m. - in apparent retaliation for the city's decision just 36 hours earlier to grant identification cards to its thousands of undocumented residents.
The Office of Detention and Removal Operations - how creepy is that name - says it was just part of routine efforts to go after the more than half a million "fugitive aliens" among the 12 million undocumented immigrants. Yes, some people must be deported. But routines like this, which smell like payback, seem more a symptom of the rudderless mess that is our immigration policy.
"Why were these warrants executed in New Haven? At best it's an amazing coincidence. At worst it is an act of intimidation," Mayor John DeStefano told me Monday. "They intimidated an entire community in the process. What was accomplished here?"
Monday, members of the state's congressional delegation raised similar questions in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, saying they were "troubled" by how the roundup was conducted.
In the absence of federal policy, DeStefano said, New Haven is trying to bring a little order to the reality of thousands of immigrants living in the city illegally. The card, a first in the nation, will make it easier for local police to work in the community, for example, or for immigrants to open bank accounts.
It's not as if they aren't here and part of the community, explained the Rev. James Manship, pastor at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. Arriving immigrants - part of this church for generations - make the restaurant meals and wash dishes, bake bread and mow lawns.
"How will this community of New Haven and how will Connecticut be remembered in history?" Manship asked. Located in New Haven's Fair Haven neighborhood, the church has been at the center of the response to the federal raid last week.
"We cannot have open borders. We are not for amnesty," the youthful Manship, an East Hartford native, told me. "But you can't deport 12 million-plus people."
Significantly, it isn't just the liberal mayor or outspoken priest worried where all this is headed.
"The real issue for this country, let alone for Connecticut, is are we going to have an immigration policy that allows us to address the fact that we are going to be losing a hell of a lot of skilled talent due to an aging workforce," said Peter Gioia, vice president and economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
Without a steady flow of immigrants, "we'd be dead," Gioia said. "We grew about four percent in 2000 over 1990. All of that is attributed to immigration. Without immigration the state of Connecticut economically would be in crisis."
Gioia and others say we are going to need every immigrant we can find. Without immigrants - and a federal policy that creates a legal path to citizenship - you can shut the lights on our Connecticut future.
"It's our choice what we want to do about that. Do we want to spend the next 15 years angry or conflicted? Or do we want to do something about it?" warned Christopher Bruhl, CEO of the Business Council of Fairfield County.
"More than 30 percent of babies born in Fairfield County hospitals are born to foreign-born mothers. We have a low birth rate and a net outward migration of college-educated residents. They are being replaced in the total population by immigration," Bruhl said. "The reason they are all coming is economic opportunity."
While Congress and the president fail to act, New Haven is taking steps to at least create some order. Federal agents responded with a dose of fear and intimidation.
That isn't progress.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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