On July 24, the city of New Haven, Conn., will become the first in the country to issue a municipal identification card that can be used by anyone who lives in the city regardless of immigration status. The Elm City Residence Card can be used at city libraries and parks and for other city services, parking meters and banking.
The municipal ID will be beneficial for everyone. Hard-working, tax-paying undocumented immigrants and their families will now have a document. And seniors and young people who do not drive will have a good way to get a photo ID.
The city has chosen to embrace all who live within its borders. This official action of the New Haven Board of Aldermen changes the political climate. It rejects racism and exclusion, and embraces an expansion of democracy and equality. It upholds the mandate of the Declaration of Independence for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It was a people’s movement that resulted in the ID card. The proposal came from the immigrant organization Unidad Latina en Accion, after the state Legislature denied driver’s licenses to the undocumented. The Board of Aldermen held public hearings on the status of immigrants in the city. Then came the mega-marches that swept the country last year. The labor movement, community organizations, agencies and elected officials joined in as allies.
The Police Department adopted a policy not to question residents about immigration status, so as to develop good working relations and improved public safety.
It was no accident that Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit conducted a raid in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood, home to many immigrants from Latin America, 36 hours after the ID card was passed.
The Bush administration’s reign of terror on immigrant communities utilizes raids and ideological warfare to create confusion and divisions among the working class and whip up anti-immigrant hysteria.
Far-right Republicans are already setting up immigration to be the divisive wedge issue of the 2008 elections. Their goal is to weaken the broad people’s alliance whose core is labor, African American, Latino and women voters. This winning combination broke the ultra-right stranglehold on Congress in 2006.
The Bush administration is greatly weakened. It lost much in the 2006 elections, and has lost much more since. Sections of Republicans are breaking away under intense pressure of public opinion against the war in Iraq, and in anticipation of 2008.
But we shouldn’t be lulled into a lower gear by the idea that Republicans can’t win in 2008. If the extreme right wing were already dead, we would see the ability to override the president’s vetoes and deliver on the promises of the new Congress.
The 2008 election is a fight for independence from the domination of the most reactionary section of transnational corporations. It is a fight to expand democratic rights, immigrant rights and workers’ right to organize, to bring the troops home and end the permanent war policy, and to enact universal single-payer health care and a sustainable environmental program.
The alliance against the ultra-right is growing stronger and deeper. But it must grow even further to succeed in 2008. Therefore dealing with immigration and issues of racism and poverty are a must. The attack on immigrant workers is an attack on all workers, and the denial of equal education to African American and Latino children hurts all children.
As California congresswoman and Out of Iraq Caucus chair Maxine Waters put it at the recent Take Back America conference, “With a progressive agenda that includes poverty and racism, a progressive agenda we can fight for, we can take back America. If not, we won’t.”
When ICE raided New Haven in the early morning hours of June 4, the response was immediate. Arrangements for the children left behind, lawyers for those taken, fundraising for bail and plans for a giant unity march were being put into place within hours. The city proclaimed that it would not step back from the ID card.
“The only crime of these immigrants was wanting something better for their families,” said Mayor John DeStefano. “America is better than this. … We won’t stand for the violation of constitutional rights and racial profiling in New Haven.”
On one week’s notice, over a thousand union and community members and elected officials, native and foreign born, African American, Latino and white, participated in a “March in Unity” through the streets of New Haven to “Stop the Raids Now.”
The campaign for an ID card has been a material force for unity in our city. It strengthens us in the ongoing battles to raise the living standards for all working people. It shows that concrete local initiatives for equality can become a significant factor in 2008.
Joelle Fishman (joelle.fishman @pobox.com) chairs the Communist Party USA Political Action Commission and is also chair of the Connecticut Communist Party. She lives in New Haven, Conn.