New Haven upholds its stand for immigrant rights

New Haven, Conn., has been picketed, sued and targeted with massive hate mail by national anti-immigrant organizations since last year when the Elm City Resident Card was launched. Available to any resident regardless of immigration status, the photo ID includes access to city parks, libraries and other programs.

On Monday night, after a packed and emotional hearing, the Finance Committee of the Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to accept private grant funds raised to continue the ID card. Eloquent testimony by dozens of immigrant workers, city officials, union leaders, clergy, educators, police officers and community activists proved the overwhelming success of the program now used by more than 6,000 people.

Three representatives of the extremist Community Watchdog Project with ties to FAIR (the misleadingly named Federation for American Immigration Reform), Numbers USA and other hate groups, received no support for their claims that immigration is destroying African American workers and the entire economy.

The Elm City Resident Card is premised on the idea that the health and well being of the whole community depends on inclusion and opportunity for all residents of the community. New Haven has received many national awards for this project, which is being duplicated in other cities across the country.

The following testimonies of Art Perry, political director of Local 32 BJ SEIU, and Kenneth R. Brown II of the Center for New Community in Chicago emphasize the power of unity to achieve the needs of immigrants and all workers in our country, and respond to the negative impact of division and hate.

— Joelle Fishman



Testimony of Art Perry, political director Local 32 BJ SEIU:

I am here on behalf of the 85,000 members of Local 32BJ SEIU, including 4,500 members in Connecticut.

Just two years ago, hundreds of janitors here in New Haven organized to be part of Local 32BJ. The vast majority of our new brothers and sisters are Latino immigrants who live in and around New Haven. And like all immigrants, they are here to work hard, support their families and achieve the American dream.

We testified in support of the ID card in May 2007 and we are here tonight in support of the identification card for the City of New Haven again for all of the reasons that we supported it before.

This card will serve as a means of safety and security for New Haven residents, including immigrant workers. The card will improve public safety — cardholders will be more likely to report witnessing a crime or being a victim of a crime, as well as provide identification if required by law enforcement.

In addition, the card will help residents access services, such as the library, parks and other public facilities. It will assist people in opening bank accounts, providing a safe place to keep their money instead of at home or carrying it in public. The card will also serve as means of identification for those who don’t have a driver’s license, such as the elderly.

This card is a good idea for all of New Haven’s residents and it is especially good for immigrant workers and their families, who are anxious to become full participants in their communities. By helping immigrants better integrate into city life and city services, we’ll build a better, safer and more diverse city.



Testimony of Kenneth R. Brown, II, Center for New Community, Chicago, Ill.:

The Center for New Community is a national organization committed to building community, justice and equality. The center is grounded in many faith traditions, respecting all traditions and secular efforts in building community where the dignity and value of all humanity is manifest.

The work of the center includes organizing against hate groups (such as white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups), hate music and the growing anti-immigrant hate movement. A part of this latter effort is an initiative which I am director of called “Which Way Forward: African Americans, Immigrants and Race,” which includes a network of nationwide African American leaders concerned with the dangers that the anti-immigrant movement poses toward the Black community.

We, as a center, encourage the Board of Aldermen to approve funding for the continuation of the Elm City Resident Card program. The card is a major step in the building of a safe, healthy community for all those who call New Haven home, a step for which we commend city leaders. The program’s facilitation of secure financial services for immigrants, better communication with law enforcement personnel, and increased utilization of city services is a boon to the New Haven community which we applaud, and which, no doubt, others this evening can extol more eloquently than I can. I want you, however, to also be aware of the crucial position of leadership the city of New Haven is taking nationally in the effort to build a healthy society for our residents, both immigrant and native-born.

While the debate on immigration rages around us, the need for safe, growing communities is still present, and cannot wait on protracted political battles. In instituting the Elm City Resident Card program, New Haven has demonstrated its understanding of this, and shown its commitment to addressing the needs of all those who contribute to its diverse social fabric. I dare say New Haven is being looked at for leadership in this arena of society. As various municipalities around the country wrestle with how to foster a vibrant community for all their residents, regardless of standing or country of origin, New Haven is showing that there are positive steps a city can take toward cultivating a safe atmosphere for its people. Your continued leadership in this is essential.

A notable point of success of the program is the fact that funds have been raised to support it, thus alleviating much of the burden on municipal funds. We applaud the efforts of the city to do what’s necessary for its residents even in the face of fiscal challenges.

Do not succumb to the hate and the xenophobia manifested by anti-immigrant groups nationally and here in southern Connecticut. As one examines the increasingly virulent attack in this country on foreign-born persons, one must be greatly concerned by its roots in racism, in white supremacy, in the retention of power and privilege for some at the expense of quality of life for all. We don’t have the time this evening to talk about organizations — some of which are recognized hate groups — such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Center for Immigration Studies, the Minutemen and other such manifestations of bigotry. If you wish, the Center for New Community can provide further information on such. It’s come to our understanding, however, that there are similar groups here in southern Connecticut whose vitriolic ranting — not only against much of the immigrant population but against city personnel as well — is diametrically opposed to the society-enhancing endeavors of this city. For such thought to, in any way, sway the leaders of New Haven from your goal of providing a healthy atmosphere for all would be a major blow against the building of community.

Continue the leadership you’re providing the country on the creation of safe space and community. Continue, as a city, to be true to your name: let this be, indeed, a new haven — a new place of safety — for all of your residents.