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As immigration summit convenes, Utah probes more workers

Published: Monday, July 19 2010 9:55 p.m. MDT

Online Tuesday: Visit our site for live streaming video of the governorís immigration reform summit, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — As Gov. Gary Herbert is set to convene an immigration reform summit today, five to eight more state workers are under investigation for a breach of state databases used to compile a list of alleged illegal immigrants.

Last week, Herbert announced that two Department of Workforce Services employees had used confidential state data to help with the lists. They have been placed on administrative leave.

DWS spokesman Dave Lewis said the department hoped to finish interviewing additional employees on Monday, but questioning could continue today.

"This has taken so much of our resources that we want to get it done and move on," Lewis said.

Among those under investigation is a DWS employee who called Tony Yapias, an activist who is a voice for illegal immigrants, several weeks ago before "the list" was released. During the call, which Yapias recorded, the worker complained about illegal immigrants and said several other state workers felt the same.

"We don't know if she's involved, but we are trying to be very thorough," Lewis said.

Investigators are reviewing the electronic fingerprints left behind on computer files when accessed by state workers. Employees who accessed many of the files of the 1,300 names on the list are being interviewed, Lewis said, to see if their duties required accessing the information.

Lewis said DWS is also fielding many questions about why its databases contained information about illegal immigrants, and why that would not be passed on to immigration enforcement agencies.

"Illegal immigrants themselves are not eligible for public benefits. But illegal-immigrant parents may have children who were born here, and are U.S. citizens. They may be eligible" for benefits such as food stamps, Lewis said.

But he added that data about everyone in the household — including illegal immigrants — is needed to determine whether the citizens there qualify for benefits.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Monday that federal privacy laws prohibit the sharing of such information.

Shurtleff added that he is ready to launch a formal criminal investigation once other state departments forward their findings to him. He said his office will perform the investigation, but share results with the U.S. attorney for Utah because of the possibility that federal and state laws may have been violated.

"The list" contained birth dates, addresses and phone numbers of the 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants. It had the exact due dates for several pregnant women. It contained names of many children. It also reported Social Security numbers it says were being used by those on the list. Many on the list have said they are legal immigrants.

Herbert said his immigration reform summit, which starts today, could help both sides debate in a civil manner how Utah should address immigration reform.

The governor's office did not provide on Monday a full list of who is invited to the summit, but he has said it will include "lawmakers, members of the faith-based community, minority groups, law enforcement, business leaders and others."

A key focus is whether Utah should pass a bill similar to a new law in Arizona that requires local police to question the immigrant status of those they stop if they have reason to believe they have broken federal laws to immigrate illegally.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have a representative at the governor's roundtable discussion, said Scott Parker, who heads the church's Salt Lake Public Affairs Council.

Over the weekend the church released a statement repeating earlier calls for civil discourse on immigration — but took no stand on any specific legislation.

"We repeat our appeal for careful reflection and civil discourse when addressing immigration issues," the statement read. "Finding a successful resolution will require the best thinking and goodwill of all across the political spectrum, the highest levels of statesmanship, and the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God's children."

Meanwhile, the Utah Minuteman Project said Monday that it may oust its founder, Alex Segura, for appearing last week with Yapias in a joint appeal for calm and civil dialogue in the immigration debate.

However, after issuing a press release announcing plans for impeachment, UMP chairman Eli Cawley later said he and Segura talked on the phone and made personal amends. He said he doubts Segura will be expelled now.

Cawley said that while the UMP has many who follow its views and updates, it has only 26 dues-paying members including Segura (who holds no office with the group now). He said those 26 will decide whether any membership action will be taken against Segura.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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