NEW HAVEN - The city's new identification card program, which has drawn criticism because it is open to illegal immigrants, has been much more of a success than officials expected.
New Haven began issuing the ID cards to city residents on July 24, and city leaders estimated that 5,000 of them would be handed out in the first year. But officials say they have already distributed 3,226 cards.
The city also has plans to sign up more people by bringing the ID equipment to churches, community groups and senior centers.
"We are hoping to do some work with the schools, as well," said Kica Matos, New Haven's community services administrator.
The ID cards are believed to be the first in the country specifically designed to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows and give them access to community services. But they are available to all city residents.
The program was created to help people without state or federally issued IDs open bank accounts and use other services that would otherwise be inaccessible. Supporters say that if immigrants can open bank accounts, they will be less likely to carry large amounts of cash and reduce the chances of getting robbed.
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 of New Haven's 125,000 residents are believed to be in the country illegally.
Holders of city ID cards can use them as debit cards at nearly 50 businesses in downtown New Haven, as well as at parking meters. They also double as library cards and allow free access to Lighthouse Point Park.
Besides immigrants, the cards are also geared toward senior citizens who may no longer have drivers' licenses, city children and students at Yale University.
City officials and merchants say it is too early in the program to determine how people are using the cards, but they say some of the IDs have been submitted at library branches and coffee shops.
Southern Connecticut Immigration Reform, an organization that opposes the program, has made requests under the state's Freedom of Information laws for the names and addresses of the cardholders, but the city has rejected them. Officials say the requests do not specifically seek city records.
"Connecticut FOIA law does not require that the city supply members of the public with 'names and address' nor does it require that the city provide members of the public with 'information,'" Matos wrote to one of the group's leaders, Ted Pechinski of North Branford.
The city corporation counsel's office is also reviewing a request by Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, for material gathered by the city in issuing the cards and information on recipients.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at