Blog of Rights

No More Intimidation Tactics: A Wake-Up Call for Utah

By Karen McCreary, ACLU of Utah at 2:14pm

(Originally posted on Huffington Post.)

Utah may be diving head-first into a "race to the bottom" with Arizona to make the state as frightening as possible for people who look or sound "foreign."

Last Monday, a group calling itself "Concerned Citizens of the United States" issued a list of 1,300 Utah residents it claims are illegal immigrants. The list of Hispanic names, birth dates, workplaces, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers was sent to law enforcement agencies and news media demanding that those included be deported immediately. Women who are pregnant are noted along with their exact due dates, and the list specifies that steps should be taken for their immediate deportation. The names of children are also included in the list.

The accuracy of the list is dubious, reflective of the mythmaking that often fuels anti-immigrant sentiment. By Wednesday, at least two women on the list and contacted by the The Salt Lake Tribune reported that they were actually in the country lawfully.

In a letter accompanying the list, the unidentified authors chillingly state that they have been observing the individuals in "our" neighborhoods, streets, stores, schools and public welfare buildings. They claim additional information was obtained through infiltrating the "social networks" of those identified. New lists are promised on a continual basis, presumably until every last "illegal" has been hunted down and many thousands of innocent people have been spied on and harassed by vigilantes.

Notably, these anonymous "Concerned Citizens" make no effort to account for their own identities or the legality of their collection and dissemination of personally identifiable information.

On Friday, state officials announced they have identified two Utah state workers who illegally accessed state databases to help compile this list. They've been put on administrative leave. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff promised an "immediate, aggressive, formal investigation."

The ACLU of Utah commends the swift action of Gov. Herbert and AttorneyGeneral Shurtleff in responding to investigate the release of private information once the list became public. It was critical that many senior state officials and legislators spoke out againstthe breaches and intimidation tactics. These security breaches also make clear that the government must do a better job of restricting access to and protecting databases containing such highly personal information.

While this list is a disturbing new development, this apparently private action is symptomatic of what has been a deep and frequently governmentally condoned outgrowth of racial profiling, swelling beneath the tourist-friendly, family-values face Utah presents to the rest of the nation. State legislators have promised to introduce a bill modeled on Arizona's S.B. 1070 in the upcoming legislative session, drawing encouragement rather than discouragement from the Justice Department lawsuit challenging Arizona's law. In 2008, Utah passed an omnibus anti-immigration bill, S.B. 81. Arizona's new law has Utah and some other states wondering how they can copy it and make things even worse, and Gov. Herbert has signaled that he will sign yet another ill-conceived immigration bill.

Hopefully Utahns realize, as their leaders now seem to do, that the list went too far. The anonymous compiling of personal information and the watchful, spying eyes of vigilante groups is cowardly and antithetical to long-established American ideals of liberty and individual sovereignty.

In a few weeks, Gov. Herbert is convening a roundtable of Utah legislators and community leaders to discuss immigration. This is the right time to responsibly address the intimidation and rising fears of a significant and diverse part of Utah's population.

Rather than follow Arizona's lead to the bottom, Utah can shift course to reclaim its reputation for compassion, integrity and a respect for all.

Statistics image