U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner told members of the Latino Alliance Friday that prosecuting what he called "economic immigrants" is not a top priority for his office, but illegal workers do get caught in efforts aimed at terrorists.
"Many of the things we do to try to stop terrorists catches other people, too," Warner told about three dozen members of the Hispanic organization gathered at the Salt Lake City-County Building for their monthly meeting.
Warner said the actions taken by the federal government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist acts against the United States have resulted in crackdowns, for example, on illegal identification including drivers' licenses and Social Security cards.
"We don't know if you are using it just so you can get a job or if you're a terrorist trying to get into the country," Warner said. He said that the same methods used by someone coming to the United States to pick fruit also are used by terrorists.
He said the government is concerned that terrorists could use illegally obtained commercial drivers' licenses to get access to tanker trucks filled with fuel that they could turn into mobile bombs.
Tony Yapias, director of the state Office of Hispanic Affairs, asked Warner if he knew of any terrorists who were Latino or Hispanic. Recent anti-immigration political advertising in Utah, Yapias said, is scaring the public.
Warner said he knew of no terrorists who fit that description and added that his office had "never labeled these people terrorists." He said that while he cannot take sides in a political battle, the issue "is so much more complex than a 30-second radio ad."
Although Warner said he understands why people come to the United States illegally, he has to enforce the law. While they may want a better life for their children, "they are building their house on the proverbial sand. There's nothing I can do about that."
Other issues raised during the two-hour meeting included racial profiling by police. Several members of the audience complained they had been stopped while driving simply because of their race.Warner said he doesn't believe such behavior is encouraged by most police agencies. "Does it happen? I think it probably does," the state's top federal prosecutor said. "Should it happen? No."