This city is becoming the first in the nation to offer identification cards to illegal immigrants, trying to bring them out of the shadows even as many municipalities crack down on them.
Beginning Tuesday, New Haven will offer the ID cards to all of its 125,000 residents, including some 10,000 to 12,000 illegal immigrants.
The cards will allow immigrants to open bank accounts and use other services that may be unavailable without driver's licenses or state-issued IDs. If they can open bank accounts, immigrants will be less likely to carry large amounts of cash, a practice that makes them easy targets for robbers.
City officials say the cards will also encourage immigrants who are crime victims or witnesses to cooperate with police.
"The simple straightforward purpose here is to build a stronger community," Mayor John DeStefano said Monday. "You can't police a community of people who won't talk to our cops."
Opponents say the cards will encourage more illegal immigration.
"It's going to be a welcome mat for illegal aliens to come to the region, flood the labor market and dry up working-class and middle-class jobs," said Bill Farrel, coordinator of the Southern Connecticut Immigration reform.
DeStefano said that wasn't true.
"Work draws it, not a piece of plastic," the mayor said.
He said the federal government has failed to address immigration-related issues, forcing cities to find ways to manage them.
The ID cards stand in contrast to new laws or proposals in more than 90 cities or counties around the nation prohibiting landlords from leasing to illegal immigrants, penalizing businesses that employ them or training police to enforce immigration laws.
New Haven already offers federal tax help to immigrants and prohibits police from asking about their immigration status. The new ID cards cost $5 for children and $10 for adults.
Days after city officials approved the program, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted raids that led to about 30 arrests. City officials said the raids appeared to be retaliatory, but ICE officials have said the raids had nothing to do with the city's approval of the ID program.
They would not comment on the prospects of more raids.
"ICE is mandated by Congress to enforce a wide range of immigration and customs laws and we will continue to enforce those laws in Connecticut and throughout the U.S.," the agency said in a statement.
DeStefano acknowledged that some immigrants may be reluctant to apply for an ID card because of the raids, but predicted most will still seek the ID cards.
Junta For Progressive Action, an advocacy group for Latinos, quickly ran out of 50 applications for the cards on Friday, executive director Sarahi Almonte said.
"The benefits outweigh the risks," she said.