At least 2 state employees compiled immigrant list, Gov. Gary Herbert says

Published: Saturday, July 17 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Kristen Cox, head of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, speak at a news conference in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — At least two employees of the Utah Department of Workforce Services took information from its databases to help compile a list of 1,300 supposedly illegal immigrants, Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday.

"This investigation is not over," Herbert said at a news conference. He said the names of state employees are being turned over to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff for prosecution.

As many as five more department employees may be involved in what the governor described as a "small rogue group" that collected and distributed confidential information out of frustration over illegal immigration policy. They were identified through an internal investigation Herbert ordered after the list became public Tuesday.

The head of the department, Kristen Cox, said the two identified employees have been placed on administrative leave. She declined to disclose whether they will continue to receive their pay and benefits.

"The people we have identified certainly have some strong political opinions and seem to be frustrated with some of the issues around immigration," Cox said. "They understand what the rules are. They understand the protocol. If they want to go rogue, they need to quit the department."

Later, department spokesman Dave Lewis added, "There are additional people we are looking at. There could be two, there could be five. It's a small group. They are all DWS employees."

Lewis said the additional employees under investigation have not yet been put on administrative leave. He said they may or may not face action, "depending on what we find" in the continuing investigation. As many as 2,000 department employees have access to the databases, Lewis said.

Cox said there was no breach of the database, but rather a compilation of information. The effort apparently took some time. The governor said, "These people involved have been very patient; they've been very methodical; they've been very deliberate."

Herbert said there are only two databases where information could be accessed about illegal immigrants: a list of those who are receiving prenatal care through Medicaid, and those whose children are U.S. citizens and qualify for food stamps, health care and other assistance.

The governor said releasing information from the databases is a violation of federal law, which prohibits the state from turning over the list or any other information in the databases to U.S. immigration authorities. "That's the federal law, and we have to honor it," he said.

Herbert had been scheduled to head to Colorado Friday for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Aspen, but he said his flight was canceled.

He had been criticized for not responding sooner to the list. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, his Democratic opponent in November's special gubernatorial election, had said Herbert should have condemned the list.

Herbert complained Friday about the politicizing of the issue but made a point of saying, "Using this mechanism to make a political point — I'm talking about the list — is very inappropriate, and I condemn its use."

The governor would not comment on the political implications of his news conference. His roundtable discussion on illegal immigration is scheduled for Tuesday.

During a conference call Friday, Shurtleff said that once information from the governor's investigation is turned over to his office, which is expected to happen by Monday, his staff will begin a formal investigation with the U.S. attorney's office.

"We'll do that jointly with the U.S. attorney's office, because from what we're hearing, mostly likely federal and state privacy laws may have been violated. We're talking serious crimes that could rise to a felony," he said.

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