Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Utah agencies probe alleged illegal immigrant list

SALT LAKE CITY – Investigators examined records at several state agencies Wednesday to find the origins of a list being circulated around Utah that contains the names and personal information of 1,300 purported illegal immigrants and demands that they be deported immediately.

Utah is looking into whether a state worker may have illegally accessed a database containing the sensitive information to help compile a list that has sent chills through the Hispanic community.

The dossier — sent from an anonymous group to reporters, state officials and politicians — marks the latest example of hysteria that has spread since Arizona passed its harsh immigration crackdown this year. Immigrants liken the list to a modern-day witch hunt.

A 36-year-old Salt Lake City woman whose name was on the list along with those of her husband and three children, told The Associated Press through a translator that she's consumed by fear. She said her family is considering returning to their home outside of Mexico City where they all have citizenship.

"Our worst fear was that immigration will come for us or will stop us while driving or being out on the street," said the woman, who requested anonymity to protect her family's identity.

The list contains Social Security numbers, birth dates, workplaces, addresses and phone numbers. Names of children are included, along with due dates of pregnant women on the list.

Gov. Gary Herbert's spokeswoman said Wednesday it will likely be several days before it's known whether state workers leaked the personal information.

Arizona's law, which takes effect July 29, directs police enforcing other laws to ask about a suspect's immigration status if there is reason to believe the person is in the U.S. illegally. The Obama administration has sued Arizona to throw out the law and keep other states from copying it.

Conservative Utah lawmakers are considering adopting a measure similar to that in neighboring Arizona when they meet in January.

Democratic state Sen. Luz Robles of Salt Lake City said she's worried the release of the list will distract from a substantive policy debate at a forum on immigration with the governor next week.

"This is one of those issues that's volatile. I don't know what's coming next," she said. "It was obviously a very calculated process and that is concerning."

Hispanic activist Tony Yapias said his phone was ringing off the hook with immigrants expressing concern about the list.

"This is real. This is a witch hunt style of doing things," he said while noting he had seven missed calls during his brief interview with the AP from concerned Hispanics. "What concerns me the most in this whole debate is just the cowardness, the intolerance."

Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling said the governor did not set a timeframe for the investigation, but that it is a priority. The state's technology department is assisting to see which state agencies have records that match those on the list.

"Obviously they're working on it now and we're interested in hearing the results," Welling said. "It'll take several days. This is a lot of information and it will take some work to really get down to it because, obviously, those data are accessed for legitimate purposes on a daily basis."

While each state agency is being reviewed, Welling said most of the focus is on the Department of Workforce Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services.

If there's an indication that a law might have broken, the Utah Attorney General's Office will investigate, Welling said.

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 Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

In a letter included with the list, the writers say their group "observes these individuals in our neighborhoods, driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools and entering our public welfare buildings."

"We then spend the time and effort needed to gather information along with legal Mexican nationals who infiltrate their social networks and help us obtain the necessary information we need to add them to our list," the letter says.


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