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Program Has Seen Success But Still Has Critics

Mark Spencer

May 09, 2008

New Haven's identification card program aimed, in part, at helping illegal immigrants get access to city and financial services, is 10 months old. The program started July 24. The first year's goal of signing up 5,000 was reached in December.

New Haven landed in the national spotlight 10 months ago when it began issuing identification cards, apparently the first city in the country to offer such documentation to some illegal immigrants.

The program, more than two years in the making, is designed to provide identification cards to those who may not have them, including the elderly, children and illegal immigrants.

Without identification, city officials say, many immigrants cannot open bank accounts and are easy targets for crime because of the cash they carry or keep in their homes. Holders also can deposit money on the cards, which are accepted at local businesses.

Since the city started issuing the card, 5,601 residents have received them.

"I think it's enjoyed wide acceptance from residents, from downtown vendors and has had overwhelming interest," Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said.

The card has provided access to city services and financial institutions and helped immigrants "integrate into the life of the city," said Kica Matos, administrator of New Haven's Community Services Department.

New retailers are being added to the initial 50 businesses to participate, with C-Town supermarkets expected to sign a contract today to accept the cards at its three stores in the city.

"It's been a tremendous success," Matos said.

A small but vocal group of people protested against the program. Community Watchdog Project, a group that wants stricter enforcement of immigration laws, is pursuing a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission seeking the names of those who were issued the cards.

The city denied the request, citing public safety concerns.

The commission has held a series of hearings on the complaint, with what is expected to be the final one May 19.

Dustin W. Gold, chief strategist for Community Watchdog Project, said the cards have cost the city money by attracting more illegal immigrants, who then seek local services. He said the FOI complaint was filed to discourage illegal immigrants from applying for the card.

"The intention was to disrupt the ID program," he said.

The board of alderman approved the program with the understanding no city money would be used. The first year was funded with a $237,000 grant from First City Fund Corp. The city is seeking grants for the second year, Matos said.

Contact Mark Spencer at mspencer@courant.com.

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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