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Monday, April 14, 2008

Debate over city ID card rages on

Immigrant advocate alleges harassment
By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
HARTFORD — An immigrant advocate testified before the state Freedom of Information Commission Friday that he feels harassed by opponents of a New Haven city ID card and claimed they are publishing personal information and untruths about him on the Internet that could make him a target.
John Jairo Lugo, who is now a citizen after being given political asylum, explained his concern with the actions of the Community Watchdog Project and why other immigrants fear for their safety if the names and addresses of users of the ID card are made public.
The Community Watchdog Project, headed by Dustin Gold and Chris Powell, acting as an individual, wants the FOI panel to release the names as a public record, while James Thomas, state commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security, said publishing them will constitute a public safety threat.
Friday was the third day of hearings with potentially three more days set aside to finish testimony.
The ID card is available to all New Haven residents, including illegal immigrants.
Lugo and a second resident of New Haven, Khalil Iskarous, also testified that Ted Pechinski, a member of Southern Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Reform, pushed a woman holding a baby at a rally that attracted both sides on the card issue June 4 in New Haven.
Pechinski, speaking to reporters in the hallway, said, “Do I look like a fool who would run down in front of 20, 30 people and push a pregnant woman?” He then listed his physical ailments, ranging from arthritis to a dislocated shoulder and back problems.
Lugo also testified that he saw Gold, who lives in North Branford, driving 5 to 10 mph past his house in New Haven one day. He said Gold smiled and waved as he went by.
Lugo said that left him “scared and concerned” that the group that was calling supporters of the ID cards “traitors,” also knew where he lived.
“I feel they are targeting me,” he said.
Gold has said he was at a funeral the morning he went past Lugo’s house.
Lugo, who fled Colombia after being arrested for his human rights activities, said he feared for his family back in Colombia and for himself given the alleged untruths posted on the Internet by opponents of the ID card.
He said Community Watchdog Project also videos other protest activities by Lugo’s group, Unidad Latina en Accion, including a labor dispute, which further intimidated the members.
Earlier Friday, James Johnston, who worked for federal immigration enforcement agencies for 29 years, many of them as a supervisor, testified that the large number of volatile e-mails, Web postings and threats to New Haven officials connected with the ID program, including a death threat to Community Services Administrator Kica Matos, did not rise to the level of a public safety risk.
Under cross-examination by New Haven City Attorney Kathleen Foster, however, he said he did not know which had been investigated by local police and/or the FBI, and conceded former New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. was in a better position to assess them than he was.

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