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Tony Yapias, Alex Segura unite to call for civility in immigration debate

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 9:56 a.m. MDT

Alex Segura, left, founder of the Utah Minutemen Project, and Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino, appear at a news conference together Friday to call for civility in the debate over illegal immigration and to denounce a list of names of purported illegal immigrants. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Alex Segura, left, founder of the Utah Minutemen Project, and Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino, appear at a news conference together Friday to call for civility in the debate over illegal immigration and to denounce a list of names of purported illegal immigrants. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The group that released the infamous list of 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants probably never guessed at the surprising side effect it created Friday, when the oddest of odd couples — one man from each extreme of the immigration debate — jointly asked Utahns to cool their rhetoric and debate civilly.

Tony Yapias and Alex Segura even embraced — standing in front of an American flag — in front of news cameras at the state Capitol.

The list is believed to have been circulated by a rogue group of workers at the Department of Workforce Services and includes 1,300 Hispanic-sounding names, which the group purported are illegal immigrants living in Utah.

Yapias is a voice for illegal immigrants and serves as the director of Proyecto Latino. Segura founded the Utah Minutemen Project to fight illegal immigration. He has traveled five times to the Mexican border to help fight illegal entry.

"It takes maybe the two of us to cool this off and bring this debate to a more civil manner," Yapias said.

Segura added, "Everyone just take a step, take a breath, and let's move forward and put this list thing to bed."

The pair even worked together in mid-sentence at times during the news conference.

Segura started a sentence saying, "That list is something that needs to be thrown in the trash. …"

"Shredded, not trashed," Yapias added.

"Very well," Segura said. "Burn it; do whatever you need to do. Just get rid of it. This issue has gone not only to a national level but an international level, and it's going to give Utah a bad name, and we don't want that."

The two said they like each other, have often talked, and they manage to be civil — and they called on others to do the same. Segura said, "We're all citizens of this state, and we all need to work in a compassionate matter to get this taken care of."

The pair agreed both sides have been overreacting and are too caustic in remarks. Some Hispanics are too quick to call critics racists or to say that Latinos are being treated like Jews in Nazi Germany. On the flip side, some non-Hispanics are too quick to call all Latinos "illegals" or to post hateful comments online.

Segura, who is of Hispanic descent, said Latino fear caused by the list is likely an overreaction. "I know for a fact that there's not going to be anyone jumping in their trucks with rope and shotguns with that list, driving around and stringing them up or creating horrendous crimes. I don't think that's anything that Utahns would advocate, support or even attempt to do."

While Segura and Yapias came together, their news conference showed a divide among members of the Utah Minutemen Project.

Segura, the founder of the group but not a current officer, criticized current Minutemen chairman Eli Cawley for praising authors of "the list" and calling them patriots. Cawley also has said those who generated the list should be protected by whistle-blower laws because they were revealing illegal activity by disclosing illegal immigrants.

Segura criticized Cawley and said most Minutemen "do not advocate anyone breaking the law." Segura said Cawley had spoken too quickly without thinking about consequences this week. Segura predicted the organization may soon choose new leadership.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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