As state officials in Utah continue an investigation into who sent a list with 1,300 Latino names to ICE and the media, anxiety in the state’s immigrant community is, predictably, intensifying. And local community leaders are pointing to the increasingly hostile immigration debate in both state and national politics as the impetus for the disturbing list’s circulation.
Utah is one of 21 states currently discussing copycat legislation following Arizona’s SB 1070. “What they did in Arizona was wrong, and it looks like Utah is next,” Salvador Lazalde, president of the United Mexican Federation, told ColorLines yesterday by phone.
Lazalde is also convinced that the incident will deepen distrust many in the Latino community already have of the government. “The community is feeling scared, ” he explained bluntly. “They don’t know if they can trust the government anymore.”
Lazalde recounted how difficult it was for his group to do outreach for this year’s Census. People were hesitant to give their names and addresses for fear that immigration officials would come after them, he said. Now, he thinks they had good reason to be scared.
The list of names was initially sent to officials at ICE on April 4, along with a letter signed by “Concerned Citizens of the United States.” Writing that they were not “a militia or any named organization,” the authors of the letter demanded the immediate deportation of everyone included on the list, including at least six pregnant women. An updated list was then sent to media outlets this week, along with another letter asking that the names be made public.
As we reported yesterday, at least some people on the list are documented residents.
Everyone from the governor to community activists seem convinced the whole thing was an inside job by a state official with access to detailed personal information. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert asked for an investigation into the list’s origins on Tuesday. And while that investigation is still pending, some in the state’s Latino community say that Utah’s increasingly anti-immigrant political climate is to blame.
Local radio host and former director of the state’s Office of Hispanic Affairs Tony Yapias believes that the letter’s authors were inspired, if not directly encouraged, by the right-wing Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration.
Robert Mortensen, one of the coalition’s leaders, told Salt Lake City’s ABC News, “It would be totally inaccurate because we’re focused on preventing identity theft. We’re very concerned about the fact that illegal aliens are using the identities of 50,000 Utah children and 1 million Arizona children. We’ve focused on that. And if that’s what Tony is upset at me for, then I guess I apologize for it, but it’s a fact.”
Officials at Utah’s ICE office haven’t confirmed whether it’s investigating the matter. ColorLines’ calls to the D.C. office were not immediately returned.
Photo: Utah Governor Gary Herbert