Until the federal government develops a plan to deal with immigration related issues, cities will have to come up with their own solutions, says New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
DeStefano made his remarks Oct. 4 in the Alumni Center during the annual luncheon of the Association of Latina/o Faculty and Staff.
New Haven made national headlines this summer when city officials there approved a municipal identification card that would be available to all New Haven residents, including illegal immigrants.
DeStefano said the purpose of the cards is to make the city safer for the 10,000 to 15,000 undocumented workers that make up about 10 percent of its population.
He said immigrants who don’t have bank accounts and thus carry large amounts of cash are like “human ATMs. You can make a cash withdrawal from them on the street because they’re afraid to go to the police. So if you look Mexican, you become the victim of a street robbery.”
He added, “Or you’re a woman, and your boyfriend beats you up and says ‘if you go to the police, I’ll go to Homeland Security, report your status and you’ll be taken away.’”
The Elm City ID started as a card for illegal immigrants, DeStefano said, but the card is available to all residents.
The ID gives access to libraries, local banks, parks and other public services, and may be used as a debit card at about 50 local businesses.
DeStefano says the card helps New Haven’s undocumented population deal with their everyday lives: “Going to work each day, sending kids to school, working hard so your kids have a chance to do better. These are people who are trying to negotiate their day-to-day experiences.”
Successful communities are about rights and responsibilities, he added.
“When police would stop people, they had no way of identifying who they are,” he said.
| John DeStefano Jr., mayor of New Haven, speaks at the Alumni Center during the Association of Latino/a Faculty and Staff annual luncheon on Oct. 4.
|Photo by Sean Flynn
DeStefano said several days after the program was approved, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted raids that led to more than 30 arrests.
While the raids appeared to be retaliatory, DeStefano said Homeland Security officials denied that it had anything to do with the approval of the program.
He said that those who were arrested “happened to be there when people started showing up at the doors, entering without permission and being abusive. Dads and moms were pulled away in front of their kids. An absolute disaster.”
He said the U.S. Congress and the President “don’t have the courage to come together around a consensus about what to do about border security and immigration policy.
“Throughout our history, we’ve been all over the place on immigration policy,” he said.
For example, “in the 1850s, the ‘Know Nothing’ party was all about keeping Catholics and other groups out.”
He said the issues that Italian and Irish immigrants faced in this country should not be forgotten.
“I’m not saying what any community should or shouldn’t do,” DeStefano said.
“[In New Haven,] we take a view about how we can be a healthy community in a place that is incredibly diverse. The idea of including everybody is an important value to us as a community.
“Do you want to define yourself as a nation by ignorance, prejudice, or fear,” he added, “or by hard work, entrepreneurship, the sense of community, and rights and obligations?”