This past week the Latino community in Utah has been reeling from the infamous “brown list” that included the names, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers and some social security numbers of approximately 1,300 people who are suspected of being undocumented. This list even included the names of children and plus the due dates of some pregnant women. All of those listed have Spanish surnames. And the list was sent to various law enforcement officials and to people in the media.
This list was signed by “Concerned Citizens of the United States” and indicated that this group observes people in public and included language that blamed undocumented people and those on the list for increases in crime, domestic violence and substance abuse. There was a message on the list urging officials to begin deportation procedures.
Yesterday I was able to speak with Tony Yapias, who heads up the Proyecto Latino de Utah, who has seen the list and has been responding to individuals and families who were listed. Yapias offered an interesting glimpse into what is happening in Utah in regards to immigration and provided some context for how he became involved in addressing this list.
On June 30, Yapias received a phone call from a woman identifying herself as a state worker and a Latina. She went on an angry tirade criticizing Yapias’s involvement in the immigrant and Latino communities. She did not identify herself by name, but she was angry about the immigration situation and expressed that state workers wanted to have a forum with Yapias. She also sprinkled her phone tirade with sentences in Spanish.
Accustomed to receiving threatening calls from anonymous people who harbor anti-immigrant sentiments, Yapias felt that something was different about this call because of the woman’s statement about state workers wanting to have a forum with him. When Yapias asked the woman what agency she worked for, she replied “I’m all of it.” This tipped off Yapias leading him to believe that it was someone from the state of Utah’s Workforce Services, which he describes as a “one stop shop” for applying for medicaid, food stamps and other services.
On Monday, July 12, Yapias received a copy of the list, and as he read it over, he initially felt shocked and terrified. Realizing that what was contained in the list was an egregious breach of confidentiality, he decided to contact the governor’s office to request that an investigation take place. Yapias expressed to the governor’s office that he suspected that this list may have come from Workforce Services because of the kind of information contained and because of the call he received on June 30 from the unidentified state worker.
Plainly the list singled out the Latino community because of the Spanish surnames, leaving out the possibility that other non-Latino immigrants could very well be using state services or in fact be undocumented. Last week, in another media interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Yapias said,”…They don’t have any other names on this. I mean, yes, most of the undocumented immigrants in our community—in our state or throughout the country are Latinos. But, you know, what about the 35 percent or so who are non-Latinos—Asians, African—from Africa, from Europe, from the rest of the world?”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert asked that an immediate state agency review take place on Tuesday, July 13, and by Thursday, July 15, the state had found at least two state workers who may have been responsible for the creation of the list. The employees who do work for the Department of Workforce Services have been suspended from their jobs pending the ongoing investigation, but the person who made the call to Yapias apparently has not been suspended from her job and has even admitted to her supervisor that she instigated that phone call.
From what has been revealed at this point, it does appear that state and federal laws have been broken in the distribution of this list of “undocumented people”. Furthermore, some of the people on the list were in fact legal and one person on the list was even getting ready to take the citizenship examination. Yapias indicated that he suspects charges will be filed within the next week against those workers who breached the laws of confidentiality with this data. When asked what he felt about the attorney general prosecuting this case, he said, “Nothing lesser than full prosecution should be accepted.”
When I asked if there were other vigilante type acts happening in Utah in the name of immigration enforcement, Yapias said that there really isn’t much vigilante behavior except for this one. He also commented about the situation in neighboring Arizona creating an environment for the states wanting to take immigration matters into their own hands and offered this:
“These workers had access to information that was very confidential. We trust that this information should remain private. They [those who compiled the list] thought that they were being patriotic by identifying the “illegals” to turn into the feds and other state agencies, but they didn’t calculate how this could backfire.”
Because in Utah, the LDS church (Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints aka Mormon Church) is heavily involved in civic and political life, I did ask Yapias if the Mormon Church has commented on immigration more recently because of what is happening in Arizona and because he has asked the President of the Church for an official declaration, much like what the Catholic Bishops have offered on the immigration issue.
“Unless the LDS church takes a stand like Bishop Wester did on behalf of immigration reform in representing the US Catholic Bishops, we will have a similar law to the one passed in Arizona here in Utah,” Yapias opined.
Russell Pearce, one of the lawmakers behind Arizona’s SB 1070, is considered a “devout Mormon.” And ironically, Mormons have had their own immigration history migrating to Utah and settling there as squatters when it was still part of Mexico, and today some of the break off sects of the Mormon church have settled in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to avoid polygamy laws in the US. I have noticed that the traditional media doesn’t explore the LDS connection, but it is a dimension worth exploring since this faith and members of it are heavily involved in both Utah and Arizona politics.
For more information about this case, read and watch the following:
“They Have Terrorized Our Community” via Democracy Now!
Footage from KSL TV in Salt Lake City