Immigrants on gov't raids: 'New Haven is not backing down'

New Haven, Conn.
Published Jun 18, 2007

In New Haven, Conn., the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has encountered the problem faced by all instruments of repression and armies of occupation. By retaliating against the immigrant community for daring to organize and fight back, ICE has unleashed an even stronger tide of resistance from an even broader cross-section of the community.

On the evening of June 4, New Haven became the first local government in the U.S. to offer an identification card that undocumented immigrants can use to access city services, open bank accounts, obtain health care and use for other everyday functions that most people take for granted.

Some immigrant rights advocates said that while they believed that there were sufficient votes on the thirty-member New Haven Board of Aldermen to pass the City ID legislation, they were surprised at the final tally: 25 in favor and only one against.

The measure reflected the latest step by city officials to welcome immigrants. Mayor John DeStefano had previously instructed the New Haven Police Department not to question city residents about their immigration status.

Less than forty-eight hours later, the federal ICE struck back, carrying out early morning raids and detaining at least 31 immigrants in several households in the predominantly Latin@ Fair Haven neighborhood. Because of a lack of cooperation from local law enforcement, ICE detentions had been a rarity in New Haven prior to the June 6 raids.

Word spread quickly in the New Haven community, with activists out on the streets almost immediately warning residents about the raids. By mid-morning, the Connecticut chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issued a widely-circulated statement declaring that “the timing of these raids compels the conclusion that the U.S. government is engaged in an effort to chill the immigrant rights movement and punish those who dare to speak out.”

In response to the NLG statement, activists began calling elected officials demanding that they speak out against ICE efforts at intimidation. Kika Matos, a community services administrator for the City of New Haven who had spearheaded passage of the City ID measure, told a press conference later that day that the raids were clearly not a coincidence, as ICE officials claimed. “Why else would they be in New Haven at this time?” Matos asked rhetorically at a press conference on June 6. “I think this is a disgrace. I’m ashamed of the federal government.” Mayor DeStefano issued a statement describing the ICE raids as “retaliatory” and promised to stand by the City ID measure and the immigrant community.

Lawyers from Yale University and the Connecticut chapter of the NLG have been scrambling since June 6 to identify, enter appearances for, and obtain bond for as many of the detainees as possible. Though detainees were scheduled to appear in court in Hartford, those that did not post bond were reportedly being transferred to an ICE detention facility located more than two hundred miles away in Portland, Maine.

Predictably, ICE denied that the raids were intended as retaliation and claimed that they were routine “final order of deportation” cases, where a judge had already ruled that an immigrant had to leave the country and the immigrant had not complied.

ICE was quickly and publicly caught in a lie, however, when it was revealed that only two of the thirty-one detainees had final orders, and that all of the other arrests were “collateral.” This is ICE’s code word for its racist round-ups. A collateral detention is what happens when ICE uses a final order as an excuse to enter a home and arrest a resident, and then detains all of the other people in that residence at the same time. In the case of the New Haven detentions, there were reports of city residents being pulled off of city buses by ICE agents.

If ICE thought that its collective punishment of New Haven’s immigrant community would chill activism by the community or its supporters, they were much mistaken. On the evening of June 7 more than 1,500 people gathered outside St. Rosa of Lima Church on only a few hours notice to denounce the ICE raids and to re-state their determination to see that the City ID law is implemented.

Kika Matos received loud applause when she told the June 7 rally, “I want to be very clear: New Haven is not backing down!” Many non-immigrant activists discussed obtaining City ID cards so that ICE cannot use possession of the cards as “evidence” that a person is undocumented.

New Haven resident and survivor of the Nazi Holocaust in Germany, Irma Wessel, evoked the spirit of solidarity, telling marchers, “We need to stick together as people. We are all human beings and our government needs to hear from us that we are human beings and we need to be considered as such.”

Norma, a woman whose cousins and husband were recently detained, told supporters that “I feel this pain deep, deep, deep in my heart” because of the raids but went on to express her family’s thanks for the outpouring of support from the community.

The spirit in New Haven—not only among immigrants but in the larger working class community as well—is angry but more determined than ever. In its arrogance, ICE believed that its June 6 raids would be throwing cold water on the fires of resistance. Instead, it has thrown gasoline.