Monday, April 28, 2008

City official tells of death threat

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
— Kica Matos’ life changed the day she received a death threat.
In late July 2007, as New Haven’s controversial municipal ID program was unfolding, Matos returned to her city office to find a police officer waiting for her.
He told Matos, the community services administrator for New Haven, of an e-mail addressed to her from a Ventura, Calif., man. It had been sent to her former place of employment.
“You need to be taken by the United States citizens and killed as an enemy to this nation that you are,” it read, as the author railed against the ID card, which is available to all residents, including illegal immigrants. The threat has since been turned over to the FBI.
Matos, testifying Friday in a hearing before the state Freedom of Information Commission, said for some time after she received that e-mail, she found it difficult to be alone outside and she limited appearing in public with her toddler son. To this day, Matos said she won’t use the City Hall garage on weekends when there is no security guard.
Matos was one of two main witnesses to testify Friday before an FOI attorney and a commissioner, who are considering a request by Dustin Gold of the Community Watchdog Project, an anti-illegal immigrant group, and Chris Powell, for the names and addresses of the 5,561 residents who have purchased the ID cards.
The city has been advised by James Thomas, the state commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security, not to release this material as it could put the cardholders in danger, while it might also kill the ID program, which he endorsed because it encouraged illegal immigrants to come forward and report crimes.
In a break from the daylong hearing, the fourth day of testimony in two months, Matos said she was “terrified,” after receiving the e-mail, one of many threats and incidents of harassment she was subjected to after the card went into effect.
In testimony April 11, James Johnston, a retired federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervisor with 29 years experience, disagreed with Thomas’ ruling and said he did not consider that any of the virulent messages sent to the city constituted real public safety threats.
Sherman London, an FOI commissioner in attendance Friday, after hearing the e-mail sent to Matos, remarked, “That’s a death threat.”
Matos said she was not just concerned with the potential threat to illegal immigrants who might be identified if the list of cardholders was released. “The risk extends to everyone,” she said, pointing to recent home invasions in the state and her concerns about pedophiles.
She also described the genesis of the program and the reasoning behind it.
“We didn’t do it to be trendy or to be different. We thought it would be a practical way to try to address public safety issues and help immigrants to integrate into the life of the city,” Matos said.
The other main witness was Jessica Vaughan, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies, who said she was an expert on immigration law enforcement, policing and public safety.
Vaughan said the best study she found says that immigrants don’t report crimes because of the language barrier and lack of trust and knowledge of the justice system. She also said providing a municipal ID card to illegal immigrants could help people mask their identities.
Vaughan said there was no empirical basis that New Haven’s ID program would contribute to public safety, but London questioned how a program that is the first in the country can be evaluated. “It seems to me, the police chief (Francesco Ortiz Jr.), in his testimony, found it quite valuable,” he said. Assistant Attorney General Steven Strom said the ID program is a local attempt to engage the trust of immigrants. “Perhaps New Haven is on the cutting edge,” said Strom, who added that clearance rates of crimes are up since the ID went into effect.

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