City takes matters into its own hands regarding immigrants’ civil liberties

As we have gone over in class, a considerably large number of immigrants from Latin America tend to settle in the Northeast.  In Connecticut, there was an almost 30% increase in the Hispanic population between 2000 and 2005 with a large number of recent immigrants from Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Jamaica and Haiti in addition to an already large number of immigrants from Puerto Rico.  While we’re at it with the statistics, allow me to point out that out of the approximately 400,000 foreign-born residents, 10% are illegal and almost 8.5% speak Spanish as their primary language at home.  Similarly in New Haven, a city of approximately 125,000, 38% of the foreign-born population is Hispanic.  Therefore, 10% of the city’s population is made up of illegal immigrants.

With a growing immigrant population, both legal and illegal, the city of New Haven needed a solution to help and protect its new residents.  Mayor John DeStefano Jr. cited serious concerns including access to government resources, public safety and basic civil liberties.  The high rate of robbery of illegal immigrants who are forced to carry cash without access to a bank account and their resulting reluctance to report the crime due to their illegal residency was also cited.  The Elm City ID card was designed to alleviate these problems.

In 2007, New Haven, Connecticut became the first city in the United States to offer government-issued identity cards to illegal immigrants.  Known as the Elm City Resident Card, it provides holders with a valid photo ID, a debit card able to hold a max of $150, a library card and a way to pay the city’s parking meters.  The card was created with multiple uses to prevent it from specifically pointing out and labeling illegal immigrants and so it was marketed to all New Haven citizens despite their citizenship status. When the card was made available in June 2007, approximately 12,000 undocumented immigrants signed up.  The cards cost $5 for children and $10 for adults.

Unfortunately, the United States has not followed in New Haven’s footsteps and while other cities have made voiced plans to make similar provisions for their own immigrant populations, New Haven remains the only city in the country to do so.  Although many argued and protested the new resident card, residents have continued to sign up.  The fact is that although residing illegally, the city has almost 15,000 residents that it must still take care of from a public safety and public health standpoint.  Allowing crimes to go unreported or noticed because the victim is an illegal is blatant discrimination.  They are contributing members of society and should be treated as such to a degree.  This is not to suggest that issuing these cards is the same as granting amnesty, but the truth is that all 15,000 are not going to be deported anytime soon so we might as well help them out as much as possible because they are providing the city with a readily available and needed labor force.  Immigrants who do hold legal citizenship now also have easier access to services that were not readily available before as well.

I think it prudent that New Haven continue this service for its residents, despite their citizenship status, as a leading example for other cities such as New York and ultimately the federal government so that may see the benefits of the program.



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