1 Year Later, ID Card a Mixed Bag

Victor Zapana, New Haven Register, June 8, 2008

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One year ago, they tucked the city’s Elm City Resident Card into their wallets and helped begin a controversial program that has brought scorn from anti-illegal immigration activists and praise from people who want more rights for illegal immigrants.

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The New Haven ID card provides access to city services, discounts for business and membership to a debit card program to all residents, regardless of immigration status.

While the card, the first of its kind in the United States, has caused national ripples, it still affects the New Haven community.

On the anniversary of the aldermanic meeting that approved the card, Fair Haven residents, business owners and city officials paint the picture of the municipal ID as a mixed record of success: Its symbolism for immigration advocacy is as strong as ever, while its appeal to the general public appears in question.

For the first year, city Community Services Administrator Kica Matos said, “there were unrealistic expectations from those who supported the card.”

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Meanwhile, opponents say the card is slowly failing and ultimately does not help the illegal immigrants that city officials had originally targeted.

Jose, a 32-year-old Mexican man from Fair Haven is one of 5,731 ID holders. He is a worker in another city and a father of four. With his card, he opened a bank account recently.

He is an illegal immigrant from Tlaxcala. His wife, a Mexican-American, does not have the card. His sister, Maria, also an illegal immigrant, does.

Jose and his wife are part of the group of 10,000 to 15,000 illegal immigrants who City Hall officials estimate live in New Haven.

“I was scared for my husband before,” his wife said. They had moved from house to house in New York City fleeing from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. “How am I gonna help my husband? What am I gonna tell my kids? All they know is that daddy is here.”

She said she has noticed Fair Haven has become less on edge since the federal raids, and fewer rumors of la migra (federal agents) had popped up.

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Some vocal opponents say the card is illegal protection for illegal immigrants.

Dustin Gold—chief strategist for Community Watchdog Project, the major local voice of opposition—said the ID program is dying as a result of public disinterest.

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In order to apply for a municipal ID, an applicant must fill out a form, pay $10, show photo identification and supply two documents to prove residency. One in four applicants are rejected, Matos said, usually for not having the proper identification.

City Hall has ordered 10,000 cards so far from the company that makes them, Parcxmart. The company also issues a separate card for anyone, which serves as a debit card and can be used in parking meters.

Although 5,731 IDs have been issued, the number of distributed cards will balloon to 7,000 at the end of the summer, when city officials give ID cards to about 1,200 teenagers who participate in the city [email protected] program.

Stack said he keeps the card in his wallet proudly. He uses it at the public library, a few times a month. He also buys coffee using it as a debit card at Koffee on Orange Street. But most importantly, he said, the card was a symbol of protection for “the vulnerable population.”

“We all rely on immigrants—always have, always will,” he added.

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Edwin Rivera, crime prevention manager at New Haven’s Wal-Mart, said he has seen many of the cards used in the stores when residents use checks or when residents who commit crimes in the store use the cards as ID.

Matos said city officials intend to raise awareness of the card.

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