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Extending A Hand To Undocumented Immigrants


July 08, 2009

Two years ago, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents under Michael Chertoff's watch ran a surprise operation in New Haven that resulted in the deportation of 32 Latino immigrants. Curiously, the raid began two days after New Haven's government approved a plan to offer municipal identification cards to all residents, including undocumented immigrants.

These IDs are called Elm City Resident Cards. They were issued, mainly, to promote safety among New Haven residents. In October 2006, Manuel Santiago, a 36-year-old native of Mexico, was robbed and murdered after cashing his hard-earned paycheck. Mr. Santiago's death and a number of other crimes could have been prevented had immigrants been given the chance to save their money securely. Realizing this, the mayor's office sought to create an ID that banks could accept as valid when opening a checking account. The cards have other benefits, too. They give New Haven residents access to other city facilities, such as New Haven's public library.

Overall, the city's program has been a major success. Ironically, the deportations and the virulent opposition from anti-immigrant groups are proof of this. There are now more than 7,500 people with resident cards. Since the launching of the card, cities including San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., and Madison, Wis., have modeled their progressive policies on New Haven's.

Experts on the subject applaud the Elm City Resident Card. In a recent phone interview, Jeffrey Davidow, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said, "It's perfectly sensible for cities to help undocumented immigrants become functioning members of society."

It's also true that the municipal ID program has satisfied a need. In a recent field study, the authors of this article recruited six males who were similar on key factors, but differed in their ethnicity. Three were Latino and three were Anglo. Together, they visited a total of 252 stores in four Connecticut shopping areas. Their mission was twofold. First, they had to offer to pay for a $10 purchase with a personal check and record how often cashiers asked them for an ID. Second, they had to keep count of how often cashiers accepted the Elm City Resident Card as a valid form of identification.

The results show that Latinos are in greater need of identification. Indeed, Latino participants were asked to show an ID 85 percent of the time, while Anglo participants were asked 74 percent of the time. Also, the study proves that the Elm City Resident Card is generally viewed as a legitimate form of identification: Seventy-three percent of the cashiers accepted the ID.

Ambassador Davidow also emphasized the need for a comprehensive national solution to the immigration issue. This is precisely what President Barack Obama made the case for during his June meeting with members of Congress. Now it is a matter of waiting to see whether, this time, our politicians follow through with reform.

Undocumented immigrants living in the United States are hardworking members of society. New Haven officials realized this and offered them a mano amiga (a helping hand.) Our federal government should soon do the same by offering them a path to citizenship.

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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