LatinoPoliticsBlog speaks with Tony Yapias, Director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, about the infamous “brown list”

July 18th, 2010 · 15 Comments

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

And since Mitt Romney is back in the news, this blog is worth revisiting regarding the Mormon Church and its history with people of color.

Tags: Immigration · Mexico · Mitt Romney · Mormon Church · racism

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 chalan // Jul 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Notice how no mention is made of the illegals from Asia, Iran, other Middle Eastern countries, Australia, Ireland, Canada and European Countries, only the Mexicans. The Russians are here enmasse and ripping off the system far more then the lowly Mexican slave laborers . Can’t began to count the illegals from Israel…, but we don’t say nothing about them. As always lets pick on those most vulnerable and easiest target. And, then lets add special admission provisions for the Cubans and Haitians. If you think it is not an argument driven by racist attitude, you are not listening. Recently my car was run into by a Chinese man who asked me not to call the police because he was in this country illegally and had no license, no insurance and no passport. Drove a nice Lexus though.

  • 2 Michaelr // Jul 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    That’s because the Latino community has no one to defend them, so they are the easiest ethnic group to scapegoat and politically abuse. That says so much about our Latino politicians and those Latino non profit groups, and where we fall on the Pan-American social culture ladder. The whole moral perspective evaporates whenever WASP hate groups pinpoint their self-righteous fingers in our direction.

  • 3 Anna // Jul 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Re: ” The whole moral perspective evaporates whenever WASP hate groups pinpoint their self-righteous fingers in our direction”

    That’s true. CNN let Lou Dobbs make racist comments about Mexicans which would not have been acceptable about any other ethnic group. He did much more than critique our immigration policy. They only fired Dobbs once he jumped on the ‘birther’ bandwagon.

    You can also read the same types of comments on Salon and Huffington Post. Commenst that would be deleted if they were about some other ethnic group. They need to use Mexcians as scpaegoats to distract everybody from the banks and how much they’re stealing from everybody here and around the world.

    And have you ever seen a single reporter/commentator of Mexican descent on CNN, MSNBC or FOX? The only one I can think of is Leslie Sanchez, and you only see her right before an election when they need our votes. We are the only group of Americans not even allowed to be reporters on national news networks.

  • 4 the Kaiser // Jul 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    There are plenty of Latino newscasters floating around network and cable television, but the only one with the courage to open his mouth and talk about racial bigotry and American scapegoating is Jerry Rivers, aka as Geraldo Rivera. The rest of the Latino/Latina media darlings have been rechristened as Spanish, like the majority of Latino politicians, and those snobs running the non-profits. They simply condescend to the Latino community.

  • 5 El Cholo // Jul 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Mormon doctrine is completely fixated on race. The whole Lamanite fable from the Book of Mormon claims their God changes skin color everytime he gets upset at a certain group of people. Arizona, Idaho, along with Utah are politicially dominated by the LDS, Inc., and easily accept racist doctrines to justify their social positions in American culture. Attacking Latino immigrants has been a practice of LDS culture, every time the U.S. economy falls flat. But Mormon men have no problem procreating with Latino/Mestiza women, especially if those Latina/Mestiza women can magically become Spanish.

  • 6 Pablo // Jul 19, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Well done, Adriana! I figured the list would be laced with documented names, and was not surprised to read that all of the names listed were Spanish.

    The election year hysteria surrounding immigration is manifesting itself in some hideous nonsense. In short, this is outrageous. My opinions are that, more than anyone else, cowardly politicos are to blame for failing to have a legitimate discussion on reform.

  • 7 DoctorH // Jul 19, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Nearly half a century has passed since the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress, and racial bigotry is still alive and thriving in Utah and the new Mississippi, Arizona. It’s amazing how you can blame a common laborer for the massive theft generated by Wall Street, Main Street Banking, and Sub-Prime Mortgage companies. Even Bernie Madoff is laughing about all this…

  • 8 Anna // Jul 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Re: “There are plenty of Latino newscasters floating around network and cable television,”

    I said of Mexican descent. There aren’t any on CNN, MSNBC or FOX. To my knowledge there are none on CBS or NBC.

    ABC has two: Jim Avila and John Quinones.

    There aren’t any who appear on the Sunday morning shows discussing politics.

  • 9 the Kaiser // Jul 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    What makes you think I was directing my comment to you? You’re the Latino Apologist.

  • 10 Anna // Jul 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Re: “You’re the Latino Apologist”

    No, that’s you. You’re just angry because I said that people need to change their behavior to get out of poverty.

  • 11 doctorH // Jul 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Bubbles, Sunny, Anna, whomever you are at this moment. You’re Loretta Sanchez’s apologist, so your rants have little merit, even when you’re on the right trail.

  • 12 BettyM // Jul 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    The employees who released this information should be terminated and put on the “list” of people who cannot be trusted with confidential information. It’ll be tough for them to find employment.

  • 13 Anna // Jul 20, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Re: “You’re Loretta Sanchez’s apologist…”

    Why would I need to apologize for somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong? You must be confused.

  • 14 Anna // Jul 22, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    State worker probed in Utah immigrant list

    SALT LAKE CITY — A computer specialist for a state agency has come under suspicion in the distribution of a list of 1,300 purported illegal immigrants, according to local media reports.

    The Salt Lake Tribune, Desert News and The Associated Press, citing unnamed government sources, on Thursday identified the worker as Teresa Bassett, who works in the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

  • 15 Amsterdam, language corrections // Feb 20, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Dear Tony Yapias,

    Why should Latinos illegally here in Utah, have more rights then those who came here legally? I am an immigrant, I waited 2.5 years to get a visa, I never got any benefits from Utah or Washington, nobody put up signs in Dutch, nobody places Dutch language on packages, there are no signs in Lowes and Home depot in Dutch, I am not greeted in Dutch when I call AT&T or other large companies, I am always asked where I came from, etc. One thing I did that many Latinos did not – I learned to speak and write English. So, what and why are you complaining – Latinos did break the law and are therefore criminals as determined by law, not by me. By not enforcing the law, elected officials are breaking their oath of office – to hold up the Constitution – that is criminal as well.

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