List of pur­ported il­le­gal im­mi­grants sows fear, anx­i­ety

Utah in­ves­ti­gat­ing doc­u­ment’s source, look­ing for dig­i­tal trail

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Kirk John­son

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.

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