Much ado about immigration in Utah

Map of USA with Utah highlighted
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There’s a scandal brewing in Utah over a list of alleged illegal immigrants that was sent to a number of government leaders with a demand for action.  A conservative bastion in the west, even the lone Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation, Jim Matheson, votes with his Republican colleagues almost as often as he does with Nancy Pelosi.  As the immigration debate across the country has heated, Utah has kept pace and proposals have been floated to introduce legislation that would mirror Arizona’s.  (To be honest, the legislator, Stephen Sandstrom, and his proposals have been both pilloried–here, here, and here,  and praised–by the  “Patrick Henry Caucus”–though not necessarily in that order).

Suffice to say, between Arizona’s new law, the federal lawsuit regarding the law, a very hotly contested Utah Senate race, the ambient energy of angry Tea Party-ists, and the proposed legislation to match Arizona’s have all combined to create a sometimes heated atmosphere around the current immigration debate.  Then someone compiled and sent a letter containing 1,300 names of alleged illegal immigrants.  Reported by the Salt Lake Tribune:

The list includes their birth dates, telephone numbers and addresses. In a few cases, the list also included Social Security numbers and employers. Almost every surname is Latino.

Also inside was an unsigned letter, dated April 4, from a group calling itself “Concerned Citizens of the United States” and addressed to “Customs and Immigration.”

The group said they “strongly believe” people on the list are undocumented immigrants who should be deported. The names were compiled, according to the letter, by observing the individuals.

“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 explains.

The accuracy of the list is unclear. Some phone numbers were disconnected or answered by a different person.

Apparently the list was sent to a number of individuals in state government, as well as the media. It contained, in addition to their personal information, a demand for action.

The mysterious list — almost entirely including Latino surnames — came with a cover letter demanding people on the list be “deported immediately” with a call to “DO YOUR JOB AND STOP MAKING EXCUSES! WE DEMAND ACTION.”

Needless to say, the letter raises a number of issues, not the least of which is how was the information obtained and compiled, and, because of concern that state government data bases were used to find the information, Utah Governor Herbert, as well as several state agencies, is looking into it.

Herbert on Tuesday ordered several state agencies to determine whether computer records were accessed inappropriately to create the detailed list, which arrived by mail Monday at media outlets, law enforcement agencies, and the state House and Senate.

“If it reveals any kind of evidence of wrongdoing or release of private information we will turn it over to the Attorney General’s Office,” said Angie Welling, Herbert’s spokeswoman.

Utah law makes it a misdemeanor to disclose government data not meant for public dissemination, though there are protections for whistle blowers. The list included names, addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, and 31 social security numbers. Also included: the names and dates of birth of 201 children, and the due dates of six pregnant women. Almost every surname is Latino.

According to a privacy attorney quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune, even gathering the information may be illegal.

Compiling and distributing the list itself could be illegal. If the compilers took data from state or local databases not available to the public, they could be charged with a misdemeanor under state law, said Jeff Hunt, a Utah media attorney. If the group lied to obtain the data, that could be fraud.

Asked whether he was aware of similar efforts, Hunt said, “I’ve never heard of anything close.”

And, of course, immigration advocacy groups are furious over the disclosure of the privacy information contained in the letters, as well as what sending the letters does for the debate in Utah over immigration.

Frank Cordova, president of the group Central Civico Mexicano, said the release of the information is destructive to efforts to bring people together to reform immigration policy, “rather than trying to cut so many people’s throats and hurt them in the manner this is coming down.”

“I can’t even imagine being a brown person and being undocumented, and to find yourself on a list or on the other side [wondering] when someone is going to put you on a list if your name’s not there right now,” he said.

So, I ask you, as was asked by KVNU’s Jason Williams: “Vigilante wing-nuttery, or just “concerned citizens” demanding action?”

Predictably, the “usual suspects” are scrambling to disavow and condemn the letter.

Ron Mortensen, a spokesman for the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, objected to the methods behind the list and the tactic of making people’s private information public. Mortensen also told KTVX Channel 4“Nobody should be acting on this information. If this gets out into the public I’d say disregard it. It is not a proven source. It is not proven information so just disregard it.” His objections are prudent, since media investigation has already uncovered erroneous information on the list. Another activist, Eli Cawley of the Utah Minuteman Project, said he also disapproves of the list because he doubts its accuracy and it could disparage American citizens. But Cawley also said the effort reflects the compilers’ frustration with illegal immigration.

And yet, the “usual suspects” are not that angry about the letter.  After all, while it’s completely unacceptable to break the law to enter the country, breaking the law to deport illegal immigrants is probably ok by their rationale.  KSL reported:

“If you had a legitimate list that didn’t unnecessarily or negligently point out citizens and legal residents, then I think that would serve the greater interest,” [Utah Minuteman Project co-chair Eli] Cawley told KSL Newsradio Tuesday.

Cawley says the interest of protecting the people of Utah outweighs the privacy of illegal immigrants.

“It’s probably against some privacy laws,” Cawley said. “But I think in the interest of preserving our civilization, preserving our society and protecting the people of the state of Utah, I think that’s a greater interest than protecting the privacy of some individuals.”

Besides, Cawley says he believes intrusions into privacy happen all the time.

“I think my phone calls are monitored, and I believe my information is gone through by any number of different groups, so yeah, our privacy is definitely compromised,” Cawley said.

Cawley says he should have been the one putting the list together, if he had the information.

[emphasis added]

Hmmm…so it’s ok to break the law as long as it’s in the interest of preserving our civilization.  And what exactly about illegal immigration is destroying our civilization?

Also predictably, the letter has set off a storm of response.  As reported by the blog Voice of Deseret, the comments on the stories have been rolling in fast and furious:

[…] KSL’s initial July 12th story attracted 832 public comments, and their July 13th follow-up has attracted 867 comments so far.

Also of concern is the origins of the list and what it means for legal immigrants that have Hispanic names.  Calls by reporters found that the list was not entirely accurate as some of the individuals said they were here legally.  Others are afraid of having their families torn apart as legal immigrants are left behind when undocumented immigrants are deported.

“My mother-in-law was almost in tears when she heard about it.” Guadalupe is not concerned for herself. She says she has her documents. She is concerned for other members of her family. “Just for someone putting a name on here, we all can be torn apart,” she said.

One woman who asked to remain anonymous said she feared for her future, “Because I have a son and he is from here and I don’t want them to take him away.” She admitted that she and her family do not have the proper documents to be in this country, but she said in 9 years they have earned their own way, paid taxes, been a help to some and a burden to none. She wants to know why that wasn’t taken into consideration by the people who made the list. She pleaded, “They need to understand before acting.”

Who sent the list?

So beyond just the list, what else is in the letter?  Who are these anonymous individuals and why do they hide behind a cloak of anonymity? According to them, they are–

[…] simply citizens who continue to see the degradation of our country caused in part by the continuing presence of illegal aliens who are allowed to stay in our country.  Some of the women are pregnant and steps should be taken for immediate deportation.

Ok, so they probably aren’t very happy with the direction the country has taken recently, and they place the cause of that direction squarely at the feet of pregnant Mexicans.  Really.  They use the word Mexican in the letter.  They go on:

We welcome any person into our country who has come here legally and is totally self-sufficient.

The underline is their emphasis, not mine.  So we can learn that these people also are not welcoming of people who have come here legally BUT are not self-sufficient.  So does that mean everyone not self-sufficient has to go back to their country of origin?  And what does self-sufficient mean?  That you grow your own produce, raise your own beef, and sew your own clothes?  That you pay cash for your home or built it from materials that you produced yourself?  That you never took out a loan to pay for a car (made in Japan, or by a Japanese company), to pay for education (a loan subsidized by the US government in a Stafford Loan or Pell Grant), or to buy a home (also subsidized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac)?  That you don’t put your money in an FDIC insured bank account?  That you don’t use public transit (also subsidized with federal and state money)?  That you don’t drive on the interstate (produced with federal money)?  Attended public schools (subsidized with state and federal money)?

Apparently, self-sufficiency is pretty important…so important that it was underlined instead of “legally.” Someone give me heads up if they know ANYONE that is totally self-sufficient.

But that’s just a part of the letter.  Read the whole thing, here.

The last thing that really sticks in my craw is the anonymity of the group.  Why anonymity?  If they are so confident that they are doing the right thing, and not breaking any laws, why hide their identities?  What’s wrong with standing behind their beliefs?  Are they cowards?  Are they criminals now that they’ve broken the law to stalk these individuals and out them to the world?

Stay tuned.  Immigration is a touchy topic, and it doesn’t cut down the usual party lines.  Sending letters like this to the public and to government agencies does little to help resolve a major public issue.  Rather, it divides and polarizes and makes it difficult to bring the appropriate parties to the table.  Hiding under the guise that they “love” their country and “love” the Constitution does not compensate that they are acting without love for how and why their country was founded and what the Constitution was intended to do.

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United S...
Image by Rosie O’Beirne via Flickrpolicy

Nor does it show much love for their fellow-man, a slightly higher law than state or federal law.  Whether or not these undocumented or illegal immigrants are breaking the law, the manner in which this letter was propagates, and it’s very existence, as well as the extremely prejudicial language used within it displays a disregard for illegal immigrants as human beings, not to mention a superiority in status of those who drafted it.  It is one thing to actively advocate for immigration reform; it is another thing entirely to cast the debate into a fight over the future of civilization, “our” civilization, using racial and ethnic overtones.  I belong to that civilization, and I see nothing in it that does not leave room for others to participate in it.

(Thanks to the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL, Voice of Deseret, KVNU For the People, and ABC4.

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2 responses to “Much ado about immigration in Utah

  1. I don’t agree with the way in which these people have and may have gone about distributing this letter. But if a lot of the information turns out being legitimate, and if possibly obtained legally, then I think it should be used to deport illegal immigrants.

    • Respectfully, Brittany, I disagree with you. This isn’t just about obtaining the names and social security numbers and phone numbers illegally by accessing state databases. Indeed, obtaining and sharing that information may be illegal in itself, no matter how it was obtained. It is, however, anyway you look at it, a violation of these individuals’ privacy. More important, though, is that these are private individuals taking over the role and responsibilities of the government with absolutely no right to do so. That’s called vigilantism and it leads to lawlessness.

      There’s a reason these people did this anonymously. They knew that what they were doing was wrong, and they didn’t want to get caught or called out for it in public, not to mention arrested for it. I hope they are caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. There’s nothing like giving people a dose of their own medicine to introduce respect for the rule of law, not fear, into our society.

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