Last week, 1,300 names of supposedly illegal immigrants in Utah were mailed to the media, law enforcement, various state agencies and officials, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The 30-page document included addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, Social Security data, and even medical information for a small number, such as “baby due 4/4/10”—names of children were also included.
The list was sent by the Orwellian named Concerned Citizens of the United States. The cover letter of the list demanded that the people on the list be “deported immediately” with a call to “DO YOUR JOB AND STOP MAKING EXCUSES! WE DEMAND ACTION.”
The document stated that their group “observes these individuals in our neighborhoods, driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools and entering our public welfare buildings.”
“We then spend the time and effort needed to gather information along with legal Mexican nationals who infiltrate their social networks and help us obtain the necessary information we need to add them to our list,” the letter says.
While, none of the recipients has released the actual list of names, almost all of which are of Latino origin, some people listed have come forward—several of which who spoke to NBC station KSL-TV of Salt Lake City were, in fact, legally in the country—some even citizens. Legal scholars said those responsible could also face lawsuits from anyone misidentified as an illegal immigrant.
Per Emily Chiang, a constitutional scholar at the University of Utah law school such people “could have a claim for defamation because someone has made false statements about them. They’re private people, and the statements, if you can prove that they’re false, you might have a damages claim against whoever sent the letter.”
One person on the list did admit to being here illegally: “We have a reason why we came here to live, to at least have something better,” Israel Perez told KSL on Tuesday. “But people trying to kick us out, we like dogs running around and putting us in a cage and sending us back somewhere we don’t want.” Perez said his parents brought him to the United States when he was 10 years old. Like too many young immigrants he is the not responsible for being here illegally, thus highlighting the generational complexity of the problem.
Instead of answering to the demands of the letter, state and federal authorities have instead denounced the letter and are spending resources trying to determine who likely accessed non-public personal information from a state agency to generate this list. Currently, authorities in Utah believe that at least two employees of the Department of Workforce Services may have been responsible. The two employees have been placed on leave while the investigation continues.
Various groups and people have come out against this action, some expected such as Ernie Gamonal, vice chairman of the Utah Democratic Hispanic Caucus, who stated, “This is a very serious crime. In the United States of America, we don’t make ‘black lists’ anymore. For that reason, I would like to see the Department of Justice look in and determine if they need to take further action.”
And Democratic state Representative Neil Hansen who stated, “Here’s somebody accusing people of being illegals and yet they’re not willing to put their name on this. It almost seems [like] cowardice.”
Less expected, perhaps, was the support of several groups that support cracking down on illegal immigration Additionally many Republicans, who one might have expected to support any action that opposes illegal immigration, also came out against the group:
Despite being in the process of writing a Utah version of the controversial Arizona law to crack down on illegal immigration, Republican state
Representative Stephen still stated, “I think it’s a wrong approach. It sends the wrong message, and it doesn’t follow the rule of law with the bill that I’m writing.”
Both Utah’s Republican Governor and it’s Attorney General came out against the law:
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said, “Urging others to watch and report on others — that’s not how we do things in this country. We need to do it in a way that is not lists, hate-mongering and outright and implied racism.”
Even non-politicians like Paul Mero of the conservative think tank, Sutherland Institute, said, reform is as important an issue as enforcement not to mention an “an authentic conservative position.”
The most unexpected effect may have been the surprise public press conference between Tony Yapias, direct of Proyecto Latino, and Alex Segura, founder of the Utah Minutemen Project, who stood together in front of an American flag at the Utah state capitol where they asked the people of Utah to “cool their rhetoric and debate civilly.”
Regarding the list, 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. We’re all citizens of this state, and we all need to work in a compassionate matter to get this taken care of.”
Per Desert News, “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 even criticized current Minutemen chairman, Eli Cawley, for praising authors of “the list” by calling them patriots. Unlike most other prominent conservatives in Utah, Cawley has said those who generated the list should be protected by whistle-blower laws because they were revealing illegal activity by disclosing illegal immigrants—he is, at the very least, ignoring the fact that at some people on list have been proven to be here legally. Crawley has denied any involvement in the generation or distribution of the list
Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office directly disagrees with Crawley and says that, “These people seem to be concerned about identifying people who are breaking the law [so] they should identify themselves and tell us whether or not THEY broke the law.”
So enough about the what…what about the why? Why has this happened in Utah? Why has Arizona passed its own law allowing their police officers to detain anyone they reasonably suspect of being an immigrant—quick, define reasonably and tell me when, where and how long you’ll be detained until you can prove it.
At some level, these actions are being taken due to the frustration over the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Per Jason L. Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, and author of Let Them In (a book extolling the free market conservative case in support of immigration), in 2006, Senators John McCain – R and Ted Kennedy – D teamed up to co-sponsor a bill that would have reformed immigration by increasing border security, by expanding and refining the guest worker program, and by providing a path to citizenship to those who paid taxes, paid a fine, learned English, etc., but despite passing the Senate, the law was killed by Republicans in the House, who during the summer before the 2006 election held a series of town hall-type meetings to denounce the plan as “amnesty” in an attempt to rally the conservative base that was in such disarray.
The GOP spent tens of millions of dollar on television ads portraying the Latino immigrants as “dangerous criminals” and in some cases “compared them to Islamic terrorists.” The strategy bombed of course; as everyone knows, the Democrats trounced the Republicans in the 2006 election, even making Democratic gains in solid Republican congressional districts in Arizona. The Republicans might have fared better had they supported the law since even the Wall Street Journal reported that 75 percent of Republicans found it “not realistic to require undocumented immigrants in the United States to return home to seek legal status,” and 81 percent said it was “unrealistic to seek their deportation”—instead of helping to solve the problem, the Republicans tried to exploit nativist feeling amongst their conservative base to increase their election possibilities.
Since 2006, nothing much has been done at the federal level to reform immigration policy, and reform is desperately needed, but for that to happen the rhetoric needs to be toned down. The reality is that border security has improved; illegal entries are down more than a third since they peaked in 2000. Additional support for regions affected by drug smugglers and gangs certainly deserve and should receive additional support, but the vast majority of immigrants who are here illegally came for a better life, not to commit crimes—in fact, according to the FBI crime in along the border has actually gone down in the last decade.
Despite Arizona Governor Jan Brewers claims that most people coming across the border illegally are smuggling drugs or cutting off heads, the truth is quite the opposite. There is no evidence that the majority of immigrants that enter illegally commit more crimes than the rest of the U.S. population. It wasn’t immigrants looking for work that killed that rancher in Arizona, it was drug smugglers—conflating the two does nothing to solve the problems with immigration or drug related crimes.
An editorial in the Arizona Republic probably said it best when they responded to the governor by writing: “It is irresponsible and reckless for Brewer to suggest that migrants who come here to work are routinely smuggling drugs. It plays into the systematic vilification of illegal immigrants that extreme anti-immigrant groups use to poison and polarize talks about immigration.”
We can’t craft effective policy while we have people fear mongering and exaggerating
And despite widespread public support for Arizona’s law, there is ample evidence to support the belief that reform is possible, even desirable for most Americans.
In a bi-partisan poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies—a Republican Polling Firm, and Lake Research Partners—a Democratic polling firm, it was found that support for comprehensive immigration reform is not only strongly supported by most people in this country, it is actually strongly supported by people who support the Arizona law (according to the poll, significant amounts of support for that law has to do with the frustration that the federal government has failed to fix our broken system, not that they think the Arizona law is the best or even a workable approach).
According to the numbers:
60% of those polled support Arizona’s law, and 45% support it strongly, but only 35% of Latinos support it (It was a positive, non pejorative description of the AZ law).
Without defining comprehensive reform support was 57% with only 18% opposing it.
- Latino voters: 60% favor comprehensive reform
- 42% of the voters strongly support undefined comprehensive reform, only 11% strongly oppose
When it is defined as requiring immigrants to pay taxes, work, learn English, pay a fine, and get to the back of the line (not leave the country) 78% in support it, 61% strongly support it. (Interestingly, learning English was important enough, KNOWING it was less of a concern—apparently nobody polled wanted to take grammar tests.)
- Latino voters: 77%, 61% strongly
- Re: leaving the country—64% thought that those here illegally should be allowed to stay after registering, receiving background checks, and being put on a path toward citizenship.
Every single political and demographic group strongly supports comprehensive reform and there was strong support across all regions as well.
- “In fact, the Republicans don’t know that they are supposed to be against this, and so their support is actually the highest of anyone’s at 84% compared to 76% for Democrats and 76% of Independents.”
56% say they will vote this issue.
76% support taking action now vs. waiting.
Other key points:
When asked if it would be better if illegal immigrants were made legal and made to pay taxes or if it would be better if they were just made to leave: 58% said make them tax payers—increased saliency since it will increase revenues—beat two to one those that wanted them to leave to save jobs.
Most people also think that it is massively unrealistic to deport everyone (concurs with the aforementioned Wall Street Journal poll from 2007).
Those in support of reform said that is was not amnesty because people are required to pay taxes, work, learn English, pay a fine, and get to the back of the line.
Most people felt that if the immigrant pays taxes they should obviously be allowed to be citizens.
Most felt that immigrants were not anti-American.
Most people don’t want temporary workers, they either want them here long term or to leave.
It seems to me that the time for true federal leadership couldn’t be better. Reform need not be an issue that divides the nation. The people already support reform, now we just need someone to lead us to it.
I leave you with the words of President Ronald Reagan:
“America is really many Americas. We call ourselves a nation of immigrants, and that truly what we are. We have drawn people from every corner of the Earth. We’re composed of virtually every race and religion, and not in small numbers, but large. We have a statue in New York Harbor that speak of this—a statue of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door.
All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous things, a think which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in. In fact, what they brought to American became American. And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.”
Immigration is about as complex an issue as one can address so I intend to follow up with at least two or three more articles in the next week or so about immigration. If I didn’t address a concern you have in this article, hopefully I will do so in the next ones I write
I know many pro-immigration types prefer the term undocumented immigrant or undocumented worker over illegal immigrant since nobody can be illegal (only their actions and you don’t call someone who speeds an illegal driver or an illegal person) and I have tended to agree, but oddly enough the aforementioned poll showed that even supporters of immigration reform thought undocumented sounded worst because it’s not impossible to at least get false documents so if you are undocumented you must really be up to no good. I’m not sure how I feel about that line of reasoning—it doesn’t mean I will go back to using illegal immigrant, but the idea of using undocumented is now problematized for me. As such, I decided to go with “illegal immigrant” in my title since that was language used in “the list.”
Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com