SALT LAKE CITY — An anonymous group says it quietly watched Hispanics in their neighborhoods, schools, churches and "public welfare buildings" to compile a list of 1,300 people it says are illegal immigrants living in Utah. The group sent the list to law enforcement agencies and news media demanding that those named "be deported immediately."
It is not known who produced the list, although Gov. Gary Herbert has called for an investigation to see if the list was compiled by someone with access to state databases containing personal information. The list contains birth dates, workplaces, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers. Names of children are included. Several pregnant women have their exact due dates listed. All the names seem to be Hispanic.
"This is a way to terrorize people," said Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino and a former state director of Hispanic affairs.
He spent much of Tuesday calling people on the list to warn them and to figure out who may have collected the information.
"I'm nauseated," he said through tears. "All of these people are terrified. I don't have words to describe how scared they are. It just breaks my heart what they are telling me."
While some are worried about deportation, others fear that "crazy people" could use the list to hurt them or their families, Yapias said.
He said wording of the letter has made some Hispanics wonder if they are being followed.
The letter, which came from a group called Concerned Citizens of the United States, strongly urges state and federal agencies to do more to enforce immigration laws.
"Our group observes these people in our neighborhoods, driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools and entering our public welfare buildings," the letter reads. "We then spend the time and effort needed to gather information along with legal Mexican nationals who infiltrate their social networks and help us obtain the necessary information we need."
"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."
A West Valley mother of four who is on the list, but who asked that her name not be used for fear of deportation, told El Observador she immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico 15 years ago and has since had four children, all of whom are U.S. citizens because they were born here. When she was told she was on the list, she started crying and wondered what would happen to her children if she and her husband were deported.
"It feels like we're being persecuted," she said. She said she doubted that anyone from her neighborhood would have contributed to the list.
Mariana Hernandez, a 36-year-old who came here from Mexico 10 years ago, said that even before the list surfaced, the current anti-immigrant fervor in Utah had made her and other Hispanics fearful to go out in public, especially to stores and restaurants popular among Hispanics. She said some friends were even afraid to go to church. She also worried what would happen to her children, ages 8 and 4, if she were deported.
One woman on the list who spoke to KSL but asked not to be identified said she had a green card and would become a U.S. citizen next month.
"I have my papers," she said. "Why did they put me on that list? Now it's been 15 years since I got my residency. … I'm angry."
Yapias and others suspect that someone in state government may have compiled the list illegally from state databases that contain detailed personal information. Agencies such as the Department of Health, for example, collect personal information for applications for food stamps and Medicaid.
"(It's) very troubling," said civil-rights attorney Brian Barnard. "That kind of information is collected by government, for government purposes, and it's supposed to be protected by government. If it was illegally accessed to create that list, that's a crime."
Yapias called on the governor to investigate whether state employees and databases may have been involved.
Herbert told the Deseret News, "We're doing an internal investigation to see if we can track down who leaked it, if anybody did leak it from the state," he said, adding he expects an answer within the next 24 hours. If it turns out a state employee was involved, Herbert said that person would be turned over to the attorney general for prosecution.
Herbert also said while distribution of the list is "disappointing," he will not let it deter his efforts to begin roundtable discussions on immigration.
"We won't let this distract us," the governor said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
Marina Lowe, ACLU of Utah legislative and policy counsel, finds the list "deeply troubling" on several levels, including its vigilante nature and profiling of people based on their last names or the way they look. She said she also found it disturbing that the list included personal health information.
"Whether this group obtained private medical records, I think, is something that all of us as Americans would find deeply troubling," she said.
Lowe said she was not aware of anyone on the list having contacted the ACLU.
Ricardo Alday, spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said he was also troubled by the list, which he called the first of its kind.
"Regardless of their immigration status, nationality or any other element of which they are being accused, the persons that are on the list appear to have had their rights violated," he said.
Salvador Lazalde, president of the United Mexican Federation of Utah, said the list was a product of racism that began with the passage of a controversial law in Arizona regarding illegal immigrants.
Contributing: Cecilia Skinner, Tania Navarro, Reinaldo Escobar and KSL
A letter sent to the media accompanying the list said the information was originally sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April. Because the group did not notice any action, the list was sent to sheriffs and police chiefs in Utah, media, legislators and other politicians.
Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for ICE, acknowledged that it and many law enforcement agencies received a copy of the list.
"However, as a matter of policy, we don't confirm we are investigating an allegation or possible violation unless the inquiry results in some type of public enforcement action, such as criminal or administrative arrests," she said.
"ICE has a finite number of resources and focuses first on those dangerous convicted criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately."
She added that ICE has for years had a hotline for people to report suspected criminal activity and violations of law, 1-866-DHS-2ICE.
Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minutemen Project, an anti-illegal immigration group, said, "I wish it had been me who sent that list along" — but said he had no involvement.
"It sounds like a good idea, and I wish the Utah Minutemen had the resources to have done it," he said.363 comments on this story
But he added caution about the list. He said the only way he figures that it could be accurate is if it came from a government database, and said it makes no sense to send the government information it already has. He says if it did not come from the government, it probably is not accurate.
"This is part of the debate that we see every day," said Alday, spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. "It is a reflection of the frustration that people feel in regards to migration and the lack of necessary immigration reform."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Lisa Riley Roche