msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 7/15/2010 7:56:17 PM ET 2010-07-15T23:56:17

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah officials said Thursday they had uncovered evidence that someone used a state employment database to help anti-immigration activists compile a list purporting to identify 1,300 illegal immigrants.

Angie Welling, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary R. Herbert, said the information in the list was “contained entirely in the Department of Workforce Services database.” She said investigators expected to turn their evidence over to the state attorney general’s office by Monday.

Workforce Services officials told NBC station KSL-TV of Salt Lake city that more than a thousand state workers had access to the database. Using state resources to compile the list would violate several state and federal privacy laws, state officials and legal scholars said.

  1. An msnbc.com-NBC News report
    1. By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com with with John Daley, Nicole Gonzales, Richard Piatt and Jennifer Stagg of NBC station KSL-TV of Salt Lake City.

Latino activists called circulation of the list “domestic terrorism” and called for a federal investigation Thursday.

“This is a very serious crime,” said Ernie Gamonal, vice chairman of the Utah Democratic Hispanic Caucus. “In the United States of America, we don’t make ‘black lists’ anymore. For that reason, I would like to see the Department of Justice look in and determine if they need to take further action.”

The 30-page document — which included addresses, phone numbers and birthdates for about 1,300 people it said were in the country illegally, in addition to Social Security data and medical information for a small number, such as “baby due 4/4/10” — was distributed to a wide range of news organizations and state law enforcement agencies Monday. None of the recipients has released the actual list of names, almost all of which are of Latino origin.

A cover letter demanded that the people on the list be “deported immediately” with a call to “DO YOUR JOB AND STOP MAKING EXCUSES! WE DEMAND ACTION.” It identified the senders as Concerned Citizens of the United States, a previously unknown group.

Circulation of the list was immediately denounced by groups across the spectrum of the immigration debate, including several organizations that support cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Employment database suspected as source
The Department of Workforce Services acknowledged late Wednesday that its database compiles all the information cited in the list. It said nearly 1,200 people would have access to the data day to day.

  1. Click here for related content
    1. Letter from anti-immigrant group (PDF)
    2. List worries both sides of immigration debate

Tony Yapias, director of the nonprofit immigrant activist group Proyecto Latino de Utah and former director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs, said in an interview Wednesday on MSNBC-TV’s “Countdown” that he believed the information did come from a state agency.

“It’s much too sophisticated of a list to be put together” by a group of volunteer activists, he said.

Yapias also said a woman claiming to be a state worker called him June 30 to complain that illegal immigrants were wasting state money.

Yapias said the caller, who said she was Latina and was part of a group of state workers who were angered by illegal immigration, cited specific statistics about state expenditures on pre- and post-natal care for illegal immigrants — the sort of information the Workforce Services Department said was in its database.

“Then, two weeks later, we get this list,” he told KSL.

Yapias said he had been flooded with telephone calls from Latino residents worried that they might be on the list. The biggest concern, he said on MSNBC, was that one of the news organizations would publish the list or that it would be leaked by one of the state agencies that received it.

“If that gets online — in the way that our technology works today, it could be in seconds it could be online — you could have, potentially, individuals supporting these anti-immigrant groups that could go to their homes, to their residences, and it could create a lot of problems,” he said.

“I’ve been getting calls all day long with regards to what should they do. Should they move from the address where they’re at, go somewhere else, stay with families?” he added. “So this has really had a tremendous impact in our community.”

Widespread legal liability feared
State officials and specialists in privacy law said that if the information came from a public agency, several state and federal laws could have been broken.

Legal scholars said those responsible could also face lawsuits from anyone misidentified as an illegal immigrant. State officials said they could not confirm the accuracy of the information in the list, and several people interviewed this week by KSL said they, in fact, had legal status.

Such people “could have a claim for defamation because someone has made false statements about them,” said Emily Chiang, a constitutional scholar at the University of Utah law school. “They’re private people, and the statements, if you can prove that they’re false, you might have a damages claim against whoever sent the letter.”

Brian Barnard, managing attorney of the nonprofit Utah Civil Rights & Liberties Foundation, said that if the information was collected by the government for government purposes, “it’s supposed to be protected by government. If it was illegally accessed to create that list, that’s a crime, and it’s something that government should be concerned about.”

Bernard’s concern was shared by state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who is drafting a Utah version of the controversial law in Arizona that cracks down on illegal immigration.

“I think it’s a wrong approach,” Sandstrom said. “It sends the wrong message, and it doesn’t follow the rule of law with the bill that I’m writing.”

Ronald W. Mortensen, a co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, agreed, saying circulation of the list “wasn’t an appropriate action.”

Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, called on whoever compiled the list to come forward and disclose where the information came from.

“These people seem to be concerned about identifying people who are breaking the law,” he said. “They should identify themselves and tell us whether or not they broke the law.”

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Video: Mystery list frightens Utah immigrants

  1. Transcript of: Mystery list frightens Utah immigrants

    OLBERMANN: Tonight, there is good news for the Utah State legislators working on copy cat legislation that would mirror Arizona `s Papers Please Immigration Law . An anonymous vigilante group has beaten you to the punch. In our number one story, a, quote, concerned group of American citizens in Utah has a list of 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants living in their state and they are demanding that these people be deported. The list of names was sent to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Office in April. The concerned group provided names, addresses, birth dates, and phone numbers of 1,300 people, which it determined to be in this country illegally. The group demanded quick action, because, quoting the cover letter, some of the women on the list are pregnant at this time and steps should be taken for immediate deportation. Monday, news outlets began to receive an updated list. According to the " Salt Lake Tribune ," the new list features 31 Social Security Numbers , the names and dates of birth of 201 children, and the due dates of six pregnant women . Almost all of the 1,300 surnames listed are of Hispanic origin. As for their collection method, the vigilante group explains "this list is a result of hard work by a large force of tax-paying citizens, over the course of many months, who live throughout the state of Utah . Our group observes these individuals in our neighborhoods, driving in 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, to infiltrate their social network and help us obtain the necessary information we need to add them to our list." Our NBC affiliate in Salt Lake has spoke to the one man in this list who admitted he is in the country illegally and another woman who told them, quote, "I have my papers. Why did they put me on that list." I`m joined now by Tony Yapias , a community activist in Salt Lake City . He also hosts his own radio show . Mr. Yapias , thank you for your time tonight.

    TONY YAPIAS, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Thank you.

    OLBERMANN: You, too, have spoken to people on this list. What are they saying to you?

    YAPIAS: They`re terrorized. They`re very afraid. I`ve been getting calls all day long with regards to what should they do? Should they move from the address where they`re at, go somewhere else, stay with families? So this has really had a tremendous impact in our community.

    OLBERMANN: The governor of Utah has asked state agencies to investigate if the state`s government allowed private information to be released improperly and to contribute to this list, either inadvertently or in some sort of direct form. One, do you believe that`s happened here? And two, do you have any evidence if that has happened here?

    YAPIAS: I believe, based on the information that`s been provided, that this information came from a state agency . Primarily a social service agency, where Medicaid , or some certain social information was taken with regards to the family`s not only status, but also to the whole family. So, based on the list that we`ve looked at, and the phone calls that we made to the families, it appears that it, in fact, comes from a database, not from these groups, as they say, that they`ve been watching them in their streets and all that. It`s much too sophisticated of a list to be put together this way.

    OLBERMANN: I imagine every piece of that list is chilling to see it. I can only apologize for anybody who might have done something like this to a group of people who are in this country trying to work hard and live right. But one thing particularly just freaked me out about this. The idea that there were due dates for the six pregnant women . How on Earth would that information have been obtained?

    YAPIAS: Well, again, I mean, there`s -- we`ve eliminated every agency where we think this information would come from. And the only place it goes to where they would provide this type of information would be a social service agency, where they were getting some services from them. And this is for their citizen child, not for themselves, because they don`t qualify for services.

    OLBERMANN: Is there anything -- wherever the information came from, is there anything about the fact of this list that is illegal in your estimation?

    YAPIAS: Well, I mean, we`ve been talking to some legal experts. I mean, there`s a HIPAA violation. There`s all kinds of different state and federal violations, potentially, in this. So we commend -- I commend the governor for taking immediate action upon making the request to begin an investigation. He immediately asked the agencies to do that. So we appreciate that, the fact that he didn`t take -- it didn`t take him -- I don`t think he winked at it. He just said, look -- he recognized the severity of it and how important it was. And further, we know that there are some legal families, permanent resident families who are impacted in this. And when they found out they were on the list, imagine the shock they got.

    OLBERMANN: The Immigration and Customs people have confirmed they`ve received the list. They`re not going to comment on whether or not they are using it. Are you concerned that they might actually use it?

    OLBERMANN: Well, yes. That`s the main concern of all 1,300 people that are on the list. But, you know, the group waited a couple of months. Remember, this was sent April 4th , and it appears they were frustrated that ICE didn`t take care of the business, I guess, as they call it, and that`s why they decided to send it to media and everyone else, to make sure that now, this time, they can do something about it. We`re hoping they won`t take action on that, because they haven`t committed a crime, per se, just by working here.

    OLBERMANN: And as the governor responded, correctly, the media has responded correctly? Nobody has made this list public, but are you worried that might yet happen? What happens if the list gets out through the media?

    YAPIAS: It is. That`s the biggest concern. Because whoever the individual or the individuals who participated in this, if that gets online in the way that our technology works today, it could be in seconds it could be online and you could have potentially, individuals supporting these anti-immigrant groups that could go to their homes, to their residences, and it could create a lot of problems.

    OLBERMANN: Tony Yapias , the former director of the Utah Office of Hispanic , now a local radio show host in Salt Lake City , many thanks for your time on such an extraordinary day. Thank you.

    YAPIAS: Thank you. >

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