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2010-07-15

"They Have Terrorized Our Community": Anti-Immigrant List Targets Latinos in Utah

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Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah. He is the former director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs and has seen a copy of this list.

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An anonymous group has distributed a list that is spreading terror and outrage among the Latino community in Utah. The list includes names, addresses, workplaces, phone numbers, birth dates and, in some cases, Social Security numbers of some 1,300 people that the group alleges are undocumented. The list was sent to law enforcement officials, state lawmakers and the media, and urges that those on the list be immediately deported. All the names are Latino, and they include over 200 children and the due dates for six pregnant women. We speak to Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino de Utah. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today with Utah, where an anonymous group has distributed a list that is spreading terror and outrage among the Latino community. The list includes names, addresses, workplaces, phone numbers, birth dates and, in some cases, Social Security numbers of some 1,300 people that the group alleges are undocumented. The list was sent to law enforcement officials, state lawmakers and the media, and it urges that those on it be immediately deported. All the names are Latino, and they include over 200 children and the due dates for six pregnant women.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert has called for an investigation to see if the list was compiled by someone with access to state databases containing personal information.

AMY GOODMAN: The list arrived at media outlets with a letter signed by "Concerned Citizens of the United States" that says, quote, "Our group observes these individuals in our neighborhoods, driving our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools and entering our public welfare buildings." It goes on to blame undocumented immigrants for rising crime, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence, and adds, quote, "We plan to provide your office with new lists on a continual basis and request — no insist — that your agency take immediate and forceful action to the individuals on this list and begin deportation now."

Well, for more on this story, we’re joined now from Salt Lake City, Utah by Tony Yapias, the director of Proyecto Latino de Utah. He is the former director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs and has seen a copy of the list.

Tony Yapias, thanks so much for joining us. What is the response in Utah in your community?

TONY YAPIAS: Good morning. In our community, has been terrorized by this list. Throughout yesterday, we received dozens and dozens of calls, emails, requests, whether or not their names have been on the list, from the members of the Latino community. And so, our community is in a state of fear at this time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tony Yapias, some of the press reports indicate that the list was originally sent in April to some government agencies and then only to the media this past week. But there was nothing apparently said by government officials about the list in the last few months, have there?

TONY YAPIAS: Right. It appears that the group got frustrated, because the ICE, the immigration arm of the — of Homeland Security that does the deportations, they weren’t doing anything to round them up, I guess, in their view, and so they figured that by sending out to media outlets, to the governor’s office, to a dozen of law enforcement agencies, they figure, OK, well, we’re going to have to take the laws into our hands by allowing these law enforcement agencies to do it. And so, that’s how this whole thing began over the last couple days.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you think this list came from?

TONY YAPIAS: This list came from a state agency. As we have called, as I have personally called a dozen or so families, there’s a pattern in the type of information that can be gathered. They indicate on the letter that they’ve been watching people in their neighborhoods, driving, etc. That’s not what happened. What we believe happened is we have state workers who are sympathizers or members or friends or associates of anti-immigrant groups here in Salt Lake or in the state of Utah and are angry with this whole issue of immigration. And so, because they have access to sensitive datas, that this information, when families apply for services, such as Medicaid or other types of services, then they get all the social information about the families, and that’s how they were able to compile the list. And so, I mean, this list is so much more sophisticated for someone like these anti-immigrant groups to just say, OK, Tony Yapias lives at this address, and then his friend lives at that address. It’s members of — Latinos that live from north to south, east to west in the state, so in every town.

AMY GOODMAN: Which department, do you think? Which state department do you think it came from?

TONY YAPIAS: Well, right now, there was some indication late yesterday afternoon that the Workforce Services, which is a one-stop shop department where everyone goes there to apply for unemployment insurance, Medicaid, food stamps and other state services, that’s where we think it came from. So, we will — we’re appreciative of the governor taking immediate action in calling for an investigation. And so, basically, they have been able to kind of pinpoint at least the source of it, where it may have been coming from at this point, so...

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of some of the calls that you have received from some members of the Latino community, what are the major concerns that they express? We understand that in the statement, this "concerned citizens" also claimed that they were not in favor, did not support any kind of violence, that they were not a militia group of any kind. But how do you react to both the calls that you’re getting from people that you service, as well as their claims that this is not some kind of a vigilante effort?

TONY YAPIAS: Well, that’s what it is. It’s a vigilante effort. They have terrorized our community. I mean, this has created such panic. I mean, we couldn’t even keep up the phones yesterday in just trying to answer their questions. I mean, you know, when you tell someone on the other line that their name is on the list, I mean, it’s just a shock. I mean, you could hear, you know, the person on the other side — on the other end of the line crying, you know, just in the long silence. I can just only imagine the fear that they have. And then they call back, and they say, "Should I move? Should I stay? What should I do? Should I seek more services?" And I think, you know, that’s — later today the members of our leadership in the Latino community, we’re going to have a meeting and address — see how we’re going to work within our Latino community to calm things down, so...

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Yapias, let’s talk about the information that’s on there. It’s all Latino names. It’s the name, the address of the person. What else is on there?

TONY YAPIAS: Well, they have last name, name, birthday, address, zip code, city and telephone number. And then there’s a comment section in some of them. And this is where I think we can — when we looked at who could provide this information, which agency, the agency in the state, without maybe the Division of Motor Vehicles, maybe schools, I mean, we’ve ruled out basically everyone. And in the comment section, they have Social Security numbers on some of them, and they have the due dates of some of the women that are pregnant, or where their husband works or where they work. So there’s a comments section, and there’s all kinds of sensitive information that, I mean, besides just this, you know, being — most of these people being undocumented, we have found also that some of them are legal residents or in the process of becoming citizens. We learned over the last couple days there’s a lady that’s to become a US citizen next month. What that tells us is that this information is coming from a database in one of our state agencies, so...

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, what has been the impact — you’re a neighboring state to Arizona. What’s been the impact in your state of what’s been going on in Arizona?

TONY YAPIAS: Well, Arizona’s law has created an environment, a toxic environment, I believe, to the point where this type of vigilante-type of style is going — has come out. I mean, immediately after the law became — or the governor signed the law in Arizona, within minutes we had one of our state legislators here saying, "OK, I’m bringing this law to Utah." And over the last few weeks, when he was — he went to visit the border state and said, "Whoops, now I’ve been to Arizona, and I’m very convinced more than ever now that all the illegals from Arizona are going to come to Utah." And that was his reasoning of proposing a new law similar to Arizona here, which we think is false. So we hope that the lawsuit that’s been filed by President Obama’s administration, by the Justice Department — and I believe today there will be one of the — one of the lawsuits will be heard in federal court. We hope that the judge will file an injunction, and so it can calm tensions down in our community, so...

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the groups you think are involved? Some have blamed the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration. What has been their response? And what has been the government’s response?

TONY YAPIAS: The governor — from the governor’s office, or at least from the state government, I mean, the governor immediate — upon my request to start an investigation Wednesday morning, within hours the governor had called for an internal investigation to all the agencies. And then, yet, by yesterday, they had pretty much pinned down where the information was coming from. So the state took immediate action, and they got to work right away on that.

Now, on the other side, from the anti-immigrant groups, the Utah Coalition Against Illegal Immigration, they’re the ones that have created this situation. And, you know, I can almost be sure, in just listening to one of their spokesperson yesterday, they said that they justify this type of list being provided to the whole world and that they would — and then, Mr. Eli Cawley said, "Hey, I would — if I had this list, I would make sure" — that he would be providing that information to the rest of the world. And so, that, to me, is dangerous, you know? To make an exception on a certain group of people and to basically racially profile. 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? And so, you know, they have really targeted our community in this effort, so...

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I want to get back to this issue that this was provided, this list was provided to federal officials about three months ago, because obviously the people who, especially in divulging health information, private health information of individuals, are potentially violating federal laws. What is your sense in terms of how the federal government has been dealing with this issue in your state? Because clearly the Obama administration, rather than utilizing workplace raids to begin to find and deport undocumented people in the country, has been resorting more to getting this kind of data information and asking empoyers to, in essence, fire workers and get rid of folks who don’t have proper documentation in the country. Your sense of how the federal government reacted in the last three months to this information that came to them?

TONY YAPIAS: Well, what we know is that the ICE offices, they’ve been very active rounding up gang members, criminals, that element in our community. Last year, the state of Utah passed a law that went into implementation called SB 81, which now anyone that goes to a jail, or for whatever reason you get to a jail, now they will check your immigration status on that. And so, as a result of that, I mean, you know, several thousand people have been deported for — you know, for minor crimes that they made, ended up in jail. And so, we know that the effort, all the way from Washington to the state, has been rounding up criminals. Now, also there’s also been this silent raids, what they call it, in that as E-Verify becomes more accepted by companies, then they’re letting their people go. They’re firing people, because they’re not eligible to work. And so — and that has created you know, our communities, many of our families are — also been pretty squeezed up in our system, so...

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Yapias, we want to thank you very much for being with us, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, the Latino Project of Utah. He’s the former director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs. We will continue to follow this story.

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