Utah Immigration 'Hit' List

Authorities have identified at least two Utah employees responsible for a so-called “hit” list of 13 hundred alleged illegal immigrants. The document, which included names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other information, called for the immediate deportation of those listed. Host Michel Martin talks with Stephen Sandstrom a Republican state representative in Utah about the intensified immigration buzz in "the beehive state." Also joining the discussion is Tony Yapias, director of the Proyecto Latino de Utah, an advocacy group focusing on the interests of Utah's Latino immigrants.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, according to USA Swimming, an estimated 60 percent of black children and 56 percent of Hispanic children don't know how to swim. And too often that lack of skill leads to tragedy in the water. U.S. Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones is trying to change that. He tells us about his efforts in a moment.

And remember Diana Nyad and her record-breaking long distance swims back in the day? Now she is back and up for a new adventure at 60 years old. We'll tell you about it in a few minutes.

But first, we go to Utah where government officials have been investigating how a list of 1,300 allegedly illegal immigrants was compiled and sent to media outlets and law enforcement agencies last week. It's been called a hit list and it includes names, birthdates, addresses, Social Security numbers, even the due dates of a number of pregnant women. And the document called for the immediate deportation of everybody on the list.

Now, Utah authorities have found that a couple of state employees were apparently responsible. Utah Governor Gary Herbert said Friday that at least two employees from the Department of Workforce Services took information from government databases to compile the list. Tomorrow Governor Herbert is convening a roundtable on state immigration reform efforts.

We wanted to talk more about the list and the impact it's having on the immigration debate in Utah and also on people living in Utah, so we've called Stephen Sandstrom. He's a state representative in Utah, a Republican. Also with us is Tony Yapias. He's the director of Proyecto Latino de Utah. He's also the former director of Hispanic affairs for the state of Utah. And they're both with us from member station KUER in Salt Lake City. And I welcome you both. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. TONY YAPIAS (Director, Proyecto Latino de Utah): Good day.

State Representative STEPHEN SANDSTROM (Republican, Orem, Utah): It's great to be here.

MARTIN: Mr. Yapias, if you'd start. If you'd just describe for us what the impact has been on people not just people who well, just say Latino people in general because it's believed that the majority of the people on the list has Hispanic surnames. That's correct?

Mr. YAPIAS: Correct. All of the people on the list were Latinos. And so that has created - from the beginning it created a lot of fear in the community. Our community was traumatized and still is. We have some volunteers today that are taking calls, answering questions, you know. Most of the calls are, hey, am I on the list? And people have been afraid. They've been sleeping at friends' house. They've been in one instance, they went out of state to be with family members until this gets resolved. So it's been pretty traumatizing.

MARTIN: Do you know whether the people on the list are in fact undocumented?

Mr. YAPIAS: Well, we believe that some, I guess, probably most of them are. But every single one of them on the list have a family member that's either a permanent resident or is a U.S. citizen. And that's why this issue is going to be getting to the attorney general's office later today because there's a lot of sensitive information that was released with the list, you know. And so we, yeah, that's what it is.

MARTIN: And Representative Sandstrom, can I just get your reaction to this list and the distribution of this information? As I understand it, you generally advocated a tough line on immigration in your state or federally. But if you'd just give me your reaction to this.

State Rep. SANDSTROM: Yeah, I do advocate a fairly tough stance on illegal immigration here in the state of Utah. However, it's extremely unfortunate that this list was created. When I immediately got the list, I condemned it with the strongest possible language I could. That's not the way we do things here in Utah. It sends the wrong message. And, you know, the citizens of this state should realize that we do things the right way here in Utah. We follow the law. And you do not break the law, whatever your reason to try and correct something you think is wrong.

MARTIN: How would these assuming these individuals who have been identified are in fact responsible, they are state employees, how would they claim to know who was here with proper documentation or proper authorization and who is not? How would they think that they are in position to have this information?

State Rep. SANDSTROM: Well, they are in position to have it because there are certain services that people that happen to be in the country illegally do receive. And they do ask immigration status. However, it is a private record. And when state employees take a job in an issue that's sensitive like this, where they will be getting private information even regarding their legal status, they actually sign a contract with the state of Utah for using the computers stating that they will not release the information for any purpose.

Mr. YAPIAS: I would just like just make a little quick correction in that the state and federal law prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving direct benefits, any type of whether it's Medicaid, food stamps or any of those services.

In Utah we have, like he said, we have a one-stop shop, which is Workforce Services. And it's only the citizen member of the family that would benefit from any of those services. And so in the when they file for the application, they have to put every family member on it. And that's how we got to this list.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the news of this list that was delivered to media outlets and law enforcement agencies in Utah describing 1,300 people with personal information who are supposedly here without proper authorization. We're speaking with State Representative Stephen Sandstrom and Tony Yapias. He's the former director of Hispanic affairs in Utah.

Now, Tony Yapias, can I ask you, Stephen Sandstrom says that he denounced this immediately. What is your sense of the reaction of other political leaders in Utah to this?

Mr. YAPIAS: Well, I appreciate Representative Sandstrom. I mean, I was just telling him right before we were coming on the air, I said, you know, I appreciate the fact that you came forward. That was the very first thing I said to him. And I do, and I want everyone to know that. Even though we have our differences on the issue, but I think like him, other leaders like the governor immediately started I mean, he didn't I don't think he took a second to think about whether or not he needed an investigation going on this.

I know when I called Tuesday morning, his office, when I learned about this, you know, within a few hours, he was in Washington. He had already ordered a state agencies, all state agencies to review. And my understanding was from there on, it's like on the hour, they had to provide him a report. And then by the end of the week we had basically had this, or he had basically had it under control. And we knew exactly where it came from, who was responsible.

And so I think I was the it was a very quick response in terms of what, you know, what happened. And in a lot of ways it's bringing the trust back. I think it's, I mean, what we need to understand is besides just being undocumented, all those family members that were undocumented, this list could have been you and me, even Representative Sandstrom.

And I think that's why all of us denounced it immediately saying this is not I mean, this is just this one has just overstepped the bounds of any debate on any issue, you know. And so I'm appreciative of everyone's all the leadership's involvement at our state level who took part in this.

MARTIN: Can I just ask, though, there were other people, though, who notably in the newspapers, a representative of a Minuteman Organization, which is, how can we put this, kind of a grassroots what they would consider civil defense, some others would say vigilante organization - said that the people who release this information are patriots and that they deserve our thanks.

And the governor seemed to acknowledge that there is also frustration. There's frustration at the fact that government officials may know persons who are out of status and aren't addressing it. I do want to play a short clip from his press conference where he described that. Here it is.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Governor GARY HERBERT (Republican, Utah): We have a number of - people have question why and how can we have information about somebody's illegal status and not do anything about it. That's because of the federal law. In a course of providing services for people and taking information, you can in fact come across information that would indicate an illegal status.

But you are precluded by federal law from calling ICE, immigration authorities, and turning that information in so that any action can be taking place.

MARTIN: So, Representative Sandstrom, if I can ask you, you're currently drafting an immigration bill for Utah that as I understand, maybe you want to clarify this, mirrors the Arizona law, which has gotten so much attention, which would create more incentives for law enforcement to question people about their status.

If I could just describe what you think the general sense is in Utah of how the immigration debate should proceed at this point. What do you think the sense of the state is or the residents there?

State Rep. SANDSTROM: Well, I can tell you this. First off, the bill I'm currently drafting and I plan on releasing it first week or two of August, it doesn't directly mirror the Arizona law. It is very similar to the Arizona law, but I feel I am putting more safeguards in that's going to attempt to get rid of the idea that this will be racial profiling.

I think even though the list was there's no excuse for the list that was generated, however I think it does show that there is a level of frustration on our state with illegal immigration. And that the, you know, that many in the state of Utah are frustrated and want something done.

I've received, it's not just hundreds, but thousands of emails from every corner of the state supporting my efforts in saying please do something. And the emails I'm receiving, they're not racist in nature. They're not anti-Hispanic, they're just saying we want something done for the rule of law. And most people go out of their way to say we aren't anti-Hispanic or even anti-immigration. We just want something done about illegal immigration.

MARTIN: And Mr. Yapias, what's your reaction to what do you think? Mr. Sandstrom says this is a symptom of border frustration, how do you think about what happened here? What do you think it's about?

Mr. YAPIAS: Well, it is. I mean I'm even frustrated. I mean I think we're all frustrated. I mean all 50 states are frustrated. There's no doubt that there's a national frustration on this issue because nobody's doing nothing in Washington. The issue here is not that we don't need to create 50 types of patches of different types of immigration.

I mean, and this is one thing him and I been talking about is that, ultimately, no matter how you look at it, you know, the answer is in Washington. I mean, if he can join me in, you know, to call on the Republican Party, like, you know, all the not just those who are here in Utah, but throughout the country and say, hey, let's go to the table. Let's fix this problem rather than politicizing it, you know, to get votes, to get the, you know, the extreme right wing of the party, you know, to get the votes. And that is if he survives in November.

I don't know if he'll even make it. Yes, he says he's getting thousands of calls, but at the same time I'm getting hundreds of calls saying, hey, a lot of his voters in Utah County, where he represents, they're a little frustrated, too. That's what happened to Representative Donaldson a few years ago who was involved in this issue.

MARTIN: We're going to have to leave it there for now. It is frustrating to have a lack of time to talk about such an important issue, and I'll hope you'll both join us again as this issue proceeds, as I know that it will.

Tony Yapias is the director of a Latino advocacy group called Proyecto Latino de Utah. Stephen Sandstrom was also with us. He's a state representative in Utah and he's drafting, and he's known as a tough proponent of strict immigration standards. They both joined us from member station KUER in Salt Lake City. Gentlemen, thank you.

Mr. YAPIAS: Thank you.

State Rep. SANDSTROM: You're welcome.

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