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New Haven opts to validate its illegal residents

The Connecticut city begins issuing ID cards July 24 to undocumented immigrants, a first in the US.

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At a time when a rising number of states and cities are cracking down on illegal immigrants, New Haven, Conn., is reaching out to them with a unique perk: an ID card.

Besides serving as identification for bank services and if police ask for ID, the card can be used at municipal locations such as libraries, beaches, and parks – and as a debit card for city parking meters and at 15 downtown shops.

Cities – and critics – across the country are watching closely as New Haven prepares to hand out its first batch of cards July 24. The idea: integrate illegal immigrants into the community, protect them from crime that can happen because of a lack of documentation, and encourage them to be more willing to report crimes to police. Reaction to the first-of-a-kind program has been swift and sharp, illustrating the wide divide in US public opinion over the issue.

"We're the only city nationwide to have this program, so it's an opportunity we have to take to be a part of normal life in the community," says Maria, an illegal immigrant living here, who plans to pick up her card when it's available next week. She says illegal immigrants are targeted by muggers, who know they carry cash because they can't get a bank account without an ID.

But New Haven's move has also prompted protests.

"The city is selling out legal Americans," says Bill Farrel, one of a dozen members of the Yankee Patriot Association, which is a New England coalition opposing illegal immigration. The members demonstrated outside City Hall July 1 carrying American flags and wearing hard hats. "The illegals are taking jobs from guys that wear these kinds of hats."

Illegal immigrants account for 15,000 of New Haven's population of 120,000, according to Mr. Farrel, and he expects thousands more will come after the ID program gets under way. That's a theme that critics of the New Haven plan have taken up nationally.

For example, the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC has distributed fliers in 40 states mocking the proposal by urging illegal immigrants to go to New Haven. The fliers included a map with directions to the city.

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