Thursday, July 10, 2008

immigrants, esl, lawyers, oh my!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the biweekly Freedom of Information Commission Regular Hearing which lasted a solid 3 1/2 hours. During these meetings the stodgy mostly octogenarian commissioners make determinations about whether or not FOIA has been violated and what, if any, orders to impose (ie civil penalties or release these records and unredacted this time, or henceforth you shall comply by x, y, z parts of the act). On occasion the FOIA request will be denied because the records requested fall into one of the exemption categories. Exemptions include but are not limited to, medical records, escape routes for prisons etc.

Yesterday they addressed the issue of the issuance of id cards to citizens of New Haven. This was a particularly progressive move on the part of the city because about a year ago they issued these cards to New Haven citizens who could prove residence regardless of their immigration status. They simply did not ask card applicants whether or not they were documented. So now, this douchetastic group of immigrant haters, the Community Watchdog Project, wants the list of all card holders names and addresses to be released. The mayor refused to do so and so did the Commissioner of Homeland Security. So the haters filed a FOIA request which was preliminarily denied during the Hearing Officer's meeting.

During the Commission Hearing a 2 hour brawl ensued which was kind of awesome and ridiculous. The leader of the dogs is this guy named Dustin Gold , who is, as far as I can tell, totally cracked (and sexxxxxy sex sex). He went off on a ten minute tirade about the power of the Freedom of Information Act and how, if the Commissioners did not vote to release this information, they would be cannibalizing their own laws, picking away the meat of an already nearly bare bones skeleton, like buzzards to the buffalo of freedom of information. I am not exaggerating. Members of the dogs apparently testified in the preliminary hearing to the fact that they can "identify illegal immigrants by the way they look, walk, dress and whether or not they know spanish."

Ultimately, the reason that FOIC voted to deny the records request is because there is this statutory provision which exempts records from being released if said records would put any person at risk for harm. The decision involved lengthy statutory construction and torts arguments. I uber geeked out to it. One of the attorneys who is pretty artful and wonderfully articulate, Assistant AG Steven Strom, argued on behalf of the state that the names of card holders shouldn't be released because the assumption is that the program caters to illegal immigrants and immigrants/illegal immigrants are already at risk of being targets of criminal acts (because they won't report it for fear of being deported) and for what essentially amounts to hate crimes. So there is a "foreseeable" and "credible" risk if their names and addresses were to be released. He brawled it out with Commissioner O'Keefe who was apparently his advanced torts professor in law school. It was super hilarious cause they were fighting and the Asst. AG was like, well Commissioner I believe you were my torts prof in law school so if I may apply some of the.... And the commissioner cut him off and snarled back, "Well, I hope you learned something." O'Keefe was the only one who voted in opposition to keeping the names confidential.

Oh yeah, and 3 time Emmy winner, NBC 30 senior political reporter Tom Monahan was there...which was kind of exciting.

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