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ID Cards Bitterly Divide Region

Supporters, Critics Hold Rallies On Issue

June 17, 2007
By PENELOPE OVERTON, Courant Staff Writer

The controversy surrounding New Haven's decision to create a city identification card for illegal immigrants drew more than 500 people to parades and rallies Saturday, with rain-soaked card supporters marching through the streets of New Haven while angry opponents plotted their legal and political strategy in neighboring East Haven.

The afternoon parade was a loud, party-like gathering of about 350 families, preachers and labor union members that ended up inside New Haven City Hall, while the evening program organized by a local immigration control group drew about 75 people to the basement of a neighborhood American Legion hall.

The participants may disagree vehemently over immigration, but the events shared two things in common - anger at the federal government and deeply personal stories of how immigration has affected their lives, costing some people their hard-earned jobs and others their freedom.

A 28-year-old man who called himself Juan, a name he admitted was fake, said he traveled from Willimantic to attend the rally because his cousin's husband was one of 32 alleged illegal immigrants arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last week, just two days after New Haven decided to create the ID card program.

"Without him, my cousin's three babies will not eat," the man said. "Those babies, they did nothing wrong. The government took away a hard-working man who just wanted to put food on the table. They got people on the streets of New Haven selling drugs, killing people, and they decide to put him in jail, just cause they didn't like what New Haven did."

Juan cheered when Pastor Emilio Hernandez of Knowing God Ministries, which is based in the Fair Haven section of New Haven, read aloud a proclamation signed by leaders of 25 Hispanic churches in the city that urged ICE to stop what it believes were retaliatory raids. "We have God on our side," Juan said, pumping his fist in the air.

But a few hours later, in East Haven, Lisa Reilly stood outside the immigration control meeting on a cigarette break and spoke passionately about being fired from her job as a shirt presser at a local dry cleaning shop two weeks ago. Reilly said her crime wasn't tardiness nor temperament, but the color of her skin.

"I was the only little white girl working in the place," said Reilly, a Wallingford mother of three. "They fired me and put somebody willing to accept half my pay in my job, somebody who is in this country illegally. I got two kids in college. I've got bills. What I guess I don't have is rights. I don't hate anybody, but I have a right to a job and fair wages."

Reilly came out to the meeting with her husband and 19-year-old daughter to learn what she could do to stop the ID card program, a policy that she believes will turn New Haven into a sanctuary for illegal workers that will kick people like her out of jobs. She said that municipal identification cards will make the city an accessory to the crime of illegal immigration.

That is an idea immigration reform advocates are pursuing in court, with one speaker telling the East Haven crowd that the group has filed a criminal complaint against New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, accusing him of aiding and abetting illegal aliens. The group referred to him as "Juan Carlos DeStefano" in fliers publicizing the meeting.

New Haven decided to create the ID card program, which will make it possible for illegal immigrants to open bank accounts and apply for jobs, on June 4. Two days later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 32 alleged illegal immigrants. City officials decried the raids as retaliation for the ID card program, an accusation ICE denies.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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