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Immigrants Leave Danbury Ahead Of Police Initiative


August 16, 2009

DANBURY - Scores of immigrants are fleeing this western Connecticut city, residents say, as the economy falters and the police department begins a partnership with federal immigration officials that puts more pressure on illegal immigrants.

The partnership, announced by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency this week, will train Danbury police officers to identify criminals who have broken immigration laws. Danbury is one of dozens of communities across the country participating in the program, but it's particularly controversial in this city of 75,000, which has as many as 10,000 illegal immigrants.

Hundreds of residents protested at city hall when Danbury's city council voted 19-2 earlier this year to apply for the federal program. Danbury officials have promised that the training won't be used as an excuse to round up illegal immigrants.

"I think there is a general understanding that if you are not breaking the law, then you shouldn't have an issue," Mayor Mark Boughton said. "Of course, there are going to be some misconceptions, but I can assure you cops will not be stopping people on the streets at random demanding proper identification."

Immigrants aren't so sure. Barbara Levitt, 58, owner of the Upscale Downtown consignment shop, said immigrant-owned stores began disappearing after the city council applied to the immigration program.

"You could drive down this street, and you could see, all of a sudden, there were all these 'for rent' signs," she said. "People just left town."

Sandra Machado, 48, co-owner of Graphica, a Danbury design and printing shop, has seen a 50 percent decrease in sales because people are leaving Danbury. The Brazilian-born Machado, who resides in Bethel, said she estimates that 85 percent of her customers are immigrants.

Cristiana Lopes, a travel agent for BACC Travel in Danbury, said that in the last 10 months she has sold about 500 tickets to immigrants wanting to leave the city and return to their homelands, most of them to stay indefinitely.

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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