Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he was subjected to what he felt was a racist comment by Alex Segura, head of the Utah Minuteman Project.
The remark was made, Shurtleff said, after he respectfully declined an invitation by Segura to attend a Minuteman rally.
The group opposes illegal entry into the United States and current movements to resolve some of the problems related to illegal immigration. Minuteman groups have sent members to informally patrol the U.S./Mexican border.
"I've heard people over time refer to Alex and the people with the Minutemen as being racist but have tended not to believe it," Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News, but he said what Segura told him in an e-mail sent to him last Tuesday was outright racist. "It's almost code for things that I won't repeat," Shurtleff said.
The issue began when Segura invited Shurtleff to attend the May 1 "Wake-Up America Rally" at the Salt Lake City & County Building.
Shurtleff said he e-mailed Segura, telling him that he was scheduled to argue before a subcommittee of the Utah Supreme Court at the same time and could not make it. "I won't be able to join you," Shurtleff wrote back.
What followed was a caustic reaction by Segura, Shurtleff said. Segura pointed out that illegal aliens have called Minutemen "every nasty name in the book" and have made rude finger gestures and waved Mexican flags. Later, Segura sent another e-mail saying, "No surprise that you have declined, it's just what we expect from you. You're La Raza in your black heart and not an American in my opinion. And you wanted to be governor? Sure!"
La Raza is in apparent reference to the Hispanic community advocacy group the Utah Coalition of La Raza. The group has radically differing views from the Minuteman Project on various immigration matters.
"I don't know why he's so mad at me," Shurtleff said. He said he takes the comment as an example of Segura and others showing racist tendencies. "It's as if people who have brown skin or people who support anyone of Hispanic descent are being un-American. Just because someone has a differing point of view on the subject of immigration, they are labeled as un-American," Shurtleff said.
Segura accused Shurtleff of using his comment as a way to deflect attention from the fact that Shurtleff chose to attend a Hispanic rally but declined to attend his rally.
"Nice try," Segura said. "I know that those guys can get in and out of appointments at a whim so he can come out and address those people that voted him into office."
Segura said that, being of Hispanic descent himself, he has a right to "criticize my brown brethren. If you haven't noticed or not, I'm Hispanic, so I can be La Raza if I wanted to be. I kind of see this as a cheap shot."
"This guy (Segura) is racist through and through," said Archie Archuleta, chairman of Utah Coalition of La Raza. He said he and other members were deeply offended by Segura's reference to their organization. "We've heard some of his comments and others from some of his cohorts, and they are just astoundingly stupid and inane."
Archuleta said Shurtleff has been a good friend to the Hispanic community and has been "very just" on immigration issues.There is a chance Shurtleff and Segura may run into each other at today's Salt Lake County Republican convention. Segura is vying for a bid to unseat Rep. Neal Hendrickson in House District 33 in West Valley City. When asked if he would have anything to say to Shurtleff at the convention, Segura said it would be "business as usual. I have nothing to say to him."