List of purported illegal immigrants sows fear, anxiety
Utah investigating document’s source, looking for digital trail
SALT LAKE CITY — A list of 1,300 Utah residents described as illegal immigrants has sown fear among some Hispanics here and prompted an investigation into whether a state worker might have illegally abused a database.
Each page of the list is headed with the words “Illegal Immigrants,” and each entry contains details about the individuals listed — from their address and telephone number to their date of birth, children’s names and, in the case of pregnant women, their due dates. The letter was received by law enforcement and media outlets Monday and Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that an investigation was under way to see if state employees might have been involved in releasing the private information.
A letter accompanying the list said it was from “Concerned Citizens of the United States.” It urged immediate deportation proceedings against the people listed, as well as publication of their names by the news media. The memo said an earlier version of the list had been sent to federal immigration
Continued from A officials in April. It said that more names would be forthcoming and promised authorities, “We will be listening and watching.”
“We are not violent, nor do we support violence,” the letter said.
It also specifically noted, “Some of the women on the list are pregnant at this time and steps should be taken for their immediate deportation.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement confirmed that the agency had received a letter from the group, dated in early April.
The list comes at a time of increased tension over illegal immigration, two weeks before neighboring Arizona enacts a tough new law aimed at fighting illegal immigration. In Salt Lake City, a group of Utah legislators is drafting a bill patterned after it.
Several people on the list expressed anxiety that their personal information had been released and said they were concerned about their safety and that of their families. Some of those on the list said they were worried enough that they would leave the country.
One Guatemalan man, who spoke only on condition that he be identified as Monzon, admitted he was in the country illegally. He said he had tried hard to keep off lists of all sorts, essentially by being the best American he could — paying his taxes and staying out of debt.
“I have always tried to keep my record clean,” he said.
Angie Welling, a spokeswoman for Herbert, a Republican, said the release of the material was significant, but that the specificity of detail was even more troubling.
“Any release of private information of this nature, especially the depth and breadth of it, is concerning,” Welling said. “The governor wants to be sure that a state agency wasn’t involved, and if it was, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and to get to the bottom of who was responsible.”
Improper release of information from state records is a misdemeanor. The medical information on the list, however, from the notations about pregnancies, could potentially elevate the criminal implications far beyond that, to felony charges for violating federal medical privacy laws.
Proyecto Latino de Utah, one of the most prominent immigrant advocacy organizations in the state, received many frantic calls Wednesday. People had heard about the list, but because no major news organization has published its full contents, the callers mainly wanted to know one thing: Am I on it?
“Nine missed calls this morning,” said Tony Yapias, the group’s director, glancing at his cell phone during an interview in his office.
Most of the callers, he said, weren’t on the list.
“This is real. This is a witch hunt style of doing things,” he said. “What concerns me the most in this whole debate is just the cowardness, the in- tolerance.”
Yapias, the former director of the state’s Office of Hispanic Affairs, said he was convinced that the list had come from the State Department of Workforce Services, an agency that combines resources for job seekers, employers and people seeking assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.
The list includes information that other agencies might collect, he said, but the Workforce Services’ application form includes a question that other information-laden agencies such as the Division of Motor Vehicles, for example, would never ask: “Is anyone in your home currently pregnant?”
Welling at the governor’s office said the state’s Department of Technology Services was leading the investigation, looking into whether a digital trail might have been left behind if state computers were used to prepare the list. She said that Workforce Services, in particular, was doing its own investigation, which she called “extensive.”
Welling said that, to her knowledge, no state agency had started any investigations of individuals based on the list.
Department of Workforce Services spokesman Dave Lewis said a team of information specialists was looking for patterns — whether the computer formatting would provide clues about the document’s origin and whether there had been any unusual activity in people accessing that information inside the agency.
Intentionally releasing a private record is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. If someone stole a protected record, it could be prosecuted as a felony with a penalty punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
“The people who sent out this information — if they are interested in making sure the law is followed — they should identify who they are and explain in detail how they obtained this information so we know whether or not they violated the law,” said Paul Murphy, spokesman for state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.