Misguided City ID Plan Undermines Security, Rewards Illegal Immigration

By Jessica M. Vaughan on June 17, 2007

The Hartford Courant,
June 17, 2007

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano hailed his city's move to issue ID cards to illegal aliens as a "practical response to a real problem." Without question, mass immigration is a real problem, and how to handle it is a debate worth having.

But like the amnesty proposal that is now floundering in the U.S. Senate, the New Haven ID plan is far from practical. It, too, would undermine public safety rather than enhance it.

It is a feel-good gimmick aimed at hoodwinking the public into thinking New Haven government is attentive to the problem, even as it subverts the law and tacitly encourages illegal residents to stay.

The Elm City Resident Card may suffice for access to city parks and libraries, but will be practically useless as a credible form of identification for financial services or law enforcement. Applicants need only provide "proof" of residency, such as easily faked leases or checkbooks, along with "proof" of identity - credentials as flimsy as notorious consular identification cards.

Ostensibly issued by foreign governments to keep track of their citizens, these cards have been used by Mexican consuls in recent years to provide documents to undocumented (illegally present) Mexicans or anyone claiming to be Mexican. The Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and the FBI all have declared these cards worthless as identification. Steven McCraw, then assistant director of the FBI's intelligence office, told Congress in 2003, "There are major criminal threats posed by the cards, and a potential terrorist threat."

Many believe that the illegal population should have access to legitimate financial services, rather than keeping money under mattresses or carrying around wads of cash, which makes them targets for robbery. But banks and mortgage lenders must resist the temptation to relax security and identification standards that protect us all in order to cater to this market. Since 9/11, financial institutions have had to verify the identity of new customers, among other precautions. This standard cannot be met by the Elm City card. If banks and mortgage lenders feel compelled to serve illegally resident customers, they should at least insist that they produce a passport, which is a more reliable document.

City leaders are rightly concerned about immigrants who are victims of crime. But placing in circulation a dubious identity document that is sure to be used as much by criminals as it will be for parking meters will not help. It only makes it easier for criminals by enabling them to hide in plain sight.

As it is, the New Haven police department is operating what amounts to an amnesty program for illegal aliens who have had their day in court and lost, but remain in defiance of removal orders. A December 2006 memo from the chief told officers that although they may inquire about someone's immigration status if it pertains to a criminal investigation, they must ignore all other illegal aliens they encounter, even those with outstanding federal warrants for their arrest. According to one former federal agent, "This department has essentially absolved itself of its oath of responsibility to help enforce laws that protect the homeland."

Although this hands-off policy aims to cultivate trust in the immigrant community, in reality
it fosters a climate of contempt for the law. It does nothing to develop the mutual respect that is needed to encourage the reporting of crime or assist in bringing perpetrators to justice, which actually would help keep these neighborhoods safe. In fact, there are long-standing immigration law provisions specifically designed to encourage victim and witness cooperation, but few local police departments are aware of their existence, much less use them.

New Haven is depriving its police force of an important tool - the ability to remove
potentially dangerous lawbreakers from the community, with the help of federal authorities. Efforts to combat transnational gangs, the drug trade and terrorism would be greatly
enhanced by embracing immigration law enforcement.

Echoing national leaders promoting amnesty as a solution to the immigration problem, the mayor and others who back the Elm City cards urge us to give in to the presence of illegal aliens, as if they were a force of nature that cannot be controlled. Yet poll after public opinion poll has shown that Americans reject the idea of accommodating illegal immigration and are distressed by the economic, fiscal and social burdens it imposes on their communities.

The sensible approach is to enforce the laws we have through professionally executed operations like last week's fugitive roundup - which are taking place in cities across the country, even those that have not created identification cards for illegal aliens.

Experience shows that with a concerted and sustained enforcement effort, eventually many more illegal aliens will go home on their own.

Jessica M. Vaughan is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.