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New Haven: Issuing ID Cards To Integrate Newcomers

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: TWO STATE CITIES TAKE OPPOSITE TACKS

Commentary By JOHN DESTEFANO JR.

March 09, 2008

America wants sensible immigration reform, and the federal government has created an impossible situation by its failure to enact such reform. As John McCain said during a Republican debate in May 2007, "One thing we would all agree on, the status quo is not acceptable."

Now, like a leak in a roof that wasn't fixed and got much worse, what would have been a fix years ago just doesn't cut it. It's time to stop arguing about who should and shouldn't be here and what people who arrive here without proper documentation should and shouldn't be allowed to do. As dialogue during the current presidential campaigns has demonstrated, regardless of how we feel about undocumented immigration, realistic reform is long past due. Americans will no longer tolerate grandstanding on this issue, nor can we allow each other to play into the ignorance and fear that a conflicted few in the nation work to spread like a plague.

Candidates on both sides have made it clear that the conversation is no longer about legal vs. illegal immigration. We are home to upward of 15 million undocumented individuals who came to this country to work and who, despite never reaping Social Security benefits, pay taxes.

They come to this nation to build better lives for their families. They aren't taking jobs away from Americans, they aren't terrorists and they don't want to change the way you live your life. Just like my grandparents and just as most of yours did, they simply want to achieve the dream that this nation has trademarked.

What makes sense for this population is a guest worker program and a pathway to citizenship for these individuals. We should ensure that they register with the federal government to obtain individual tax identification numbers so that they continue to, as many do in New Haven, file their tax returns and comply with the responsibilities they have as members of our communities.

"We need to have a guest worker program. ... Our proposal is basically you can get a tamper-proof visa after your job has been proven that it cannot be filled by an American citizen. ... What do you do with the 11 million people that are already here? ... Make them earn citizenship." These weren't my words; they were said by Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New Hampshire on April 7, 2007.

Both the Republican and Democratic front-runners have made the call for sensible immigration reform a critical component of their platforms because they know, as we all should, that rather than continue to argue about illegal immigration, we need to find a way to integrate individuals currently here into our communities our economy depends on it, and our future depends on it.

As Democratic candidate Barack Obama said on "Larry King Live" last March:

"[We] have to recognize that we've got 12 million undocumented workers who are already here many of them living their lives alongside other Americans. Their kids are going to school. Many of the kids, in fact, were born in this country and are citizens. And so, it's absolutely vital that we bring those families out of the shadows and that we give them the opportunity to travel a pathway to citizenship."

In New Haven, we've embraced all residents in our community in a manner that is color-blind and status-blind. If we allow individuals to live in the shadows, to live between the lines, we aren't ensuring safe, unified communities instead, we'd be fostering division. Through our Elm City Resident Card program, we made it possible for everyone living in New Haven to have an identity, to open bank accounts that help to keep people and their money safe, to feel comfortable communicating with our police officers so that no crime goes unreported, and to feel that they are just as much a part of the community as their neighbors and therefore share in the civic responsibilities of our city.

More than 5,500 cards later, we see the highly positive impact of our ID program in our neighborhoods. In New Haven, we see the value in people; we see all of our residents as assets. This sentiment needs to spread farther than the odium, fear and ignorance that hatemongers in this country thrive on. Republicans and Democrats alike have seen this, and together we all need to agree on immigration reform that is practical, reasonable and humane.

John DeStefano Jr. is the mayor of New Haven.

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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