SALT LAKE CITY — State officials said Thursday that Utah Department of Workforce Services databases were indeed used to help generate a list of 1,300 supposed "illegal immigrants" that was spread to the news media and law enforcement by an anonymous group.
They also said that a woman employed at DWS had called Latino activist Tony Yapias two weeks ago to complain about illegal immigrants receiving social services. In the phone call, she identified herself only as a state employee. Yapias recorded the call.
State information technology employees who probed the origins of the list were able to determine that it came from someone at DWS, said Angie Welling, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, "because all of the data included on the list are also contained within DWS' database. That is, it's a match that wasn't found in other agencies."
The information technology staff has now turned its attention to the DWS database "to determine who accessed the information and when, then make sure the access was not for business processes," Welling said. "That identification process is now under way, and we expect it to be completed soon."
By Monday, the investigation is expected to be handed to the Utah Attorney General's Office.
"We have an investigation division," AG spokesman Paul Murphy said. "Basically, what will happen is we will review the information and determine whether a criminal investigation is appropriate."
The release of a private record in Utah is a misdemeanor and if someone is found guilty, they could get up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, Murphy said. He said the law is part of the state's public information act, called the Government Records Access and Management Act.
Investigators do not know yet whether the DWS employee who called Yapias is responsible for the list, which contains identities of 1,300 people, including birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers used, names of children and even due dates of several pregnant women.
"Her contact with Mr. Yapias may have been entirely her personal opinion, wanting to express her personal viewpoints to him," DWS spokesman Dave Lewis said. Lewis declined to say whether the employee has been disciplined.
"We expect people to be professional and use common sense," he said. "And this may be a violation at the very least of both of those standards."
Meanwhile, leaders of Hispanic groups said at a Thursday press conference that "the list" has made many Utah Latinos feel like Jews in Nazi Germany. They also said the issue could divert an immigration roundtable that Herbert has scheduled for next Tuesday away from its original goal to discuss immigration reform.
"The Latino community in Utah is genuinely concerned and scared by this breach of privacy," said Archie Archuleta, chairman of the Utah Coalition of La Raza at a press conference by leaders of many Latino groups. Many of the leaders wore shirts and buttons saying, "I could be illegal."
"This is Gestapo-esque," activist Peggy Wilson said about the list. "Is this acceptable in Utah? … We are not in 1963 (in the black civil rights fights) anymore."
Activist Virginia Martinez said, "We might as well live in Russia or Germany when they hunted down Jews."
While most Hispanic groups praised Herbert for quickly ordering an investigation into whether state databases had been used for the list, some groups said Herbert had not been strident enough in condemnation of the list.
They pointed to a KTVX interview of Herbert where he said the list would be illegal if it came from state sources, but the TV station said he passed on three chances to condemn the list's existence in any circumstance. Herbert did not speak to the media Thursday, when it was confirmed that the data came from DWS.
"The governor seems to be waffling on whether this is a crime or not. We ask the governor to be serious about this. Call in all those forces that we have and resources to find out who the hell did this," Archuleta said.
Daniel Argueta of the Brown Berets said, "There is a double-standard. If there were more surnames on there like Smith and Jones, we would see a quick response" by politicians.
Argueta added, "What I feel that our leaders are doing is dodging bullets. They don't want to stand up and do what's right. And what's right is condemning the list."
Welling said the governor "has been clear that this issue really focuses on two issues that should be kept separate in people's minds." The first is possible misuse of state data, which she said Herbert takes "very seriously."
About the list itself, she said Herbert "does not believe that this list furthers thoughtful conversation on this (immigration reform) issue," comparing it to "throwing kerosene on the fire." She added that "he does not support breaking the law in the guise of enforcing it."
Welling said that at the immigration reform roundtable that he has called for next week, Herbert will show that he is "working to change the tone of the debate on the issue."
Meanwhile, Herbert's Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, held a press conference attacking Herbert for not condemning the list.
"We need a statement condemning that this kind of list was made public and we're turning this into a witch hunt," he said. "Utah needs to be tough on illegal immigration, but vigilante justice and this kind of list is not acceptable. It creates an environment of intolerance."
Meanwhile, the Latino leaders also called for law enforcement and immigration agencies to ignore the list.
Yapias said it appears that they have — since some agencies were given the list in April, "and there's no sign that any of the 1,300 families have been deported," so he assumes none of them had committed felonies or serious crimes that are more likely to trigger deportation.
Yapias said that because of his outspoken views, he has received death threats over the past couple days that are serious enough that he has reported them to the Salt Lake police.
"They say things like, 'Watch out for you life,' or 'Watch your back.' That's going too far," he said.
Amid the heated illegal immigration debate, the Immigration Policy Center released a compilation of data on Thursday about the impact that Latino and Asian immigrants have on Utah's economy.
It said that if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Utah, the state would lose $2.3 billion in economic activity, $1 billion in the state gross product and about 14,219 jobs.
It also said that the 2009 purchasing power of Utah Latinos totaled $5.8 billion —an increase of 679 percent since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $1.7 billion, an increase of 403 percent since 1990.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, KSL