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Utah Government Employees Release Private Information of 1,300 Immigrants

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by Bryan Catalano and Andres Gonzalez, Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates PC

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vkCVdPMkxg]

CNN reported on July 22 that “The Utah attorney general’s office has announced a criminal investigation into the leak of immigrants’ personal information.”

In a shocking display of disregard for people’s basic right to privacy, it has been reported by the Washington Post that two government employees in Utah have publicized a list of personal information of about 1,300 undocumented immigrants.  The list, which was mailed to government officials and the media, included the social security numbers, birth dates, workplaces, addresses, and phone numbers of the alleged 1,300 undocumented immigrants residing in Utah.

According to a CNN report, the media storm following the release of this information has been concentrated on the fact that the list contained the names of children and the due dates of pregnant women.  Since the release of the list, the administration of Governor Gary Herbert as well as state officials has investigated approximately 10 employees about their potential involvement in the compilation of the list.  Two of these employees were reportedly identified as responsible for gathering and releasing the list. The two employees worked for the Department of Workforce Services, which according to the department’s Web site distributes food stamps and Medicaid programs.  The Washington Post reported that the two employees who released the list could potentially be punished with up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine, as releasing private information in Utah is considered a misdemeanor.

The Washington Post also reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have acknowledged that they received the list, but there are no reports that they will use the list to prosecute any undocumented immigrant.

Herbert is one of approximately 10 governors who have publicly supported Arizona immigration law SB 1070, which has legalized the arrest and detainment of undocumented immigrants in Arizona based on physical appearance and the ability to speak English among other factors.  This has been widely criticized as overwhelmingly Draconian and a step backwards for society.

The release of the list has added fire to the heated battle between Arizona and the U.S. government about the legality of the SB1070 immigration law, which U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. argues trespasses the power of the federal government to establish the nation’s immigration laws.

Governor Herbert has expressed desire to work on Utah immigration law if he remains governor of Utah after next years elections.  While Herbert has not expressed what the potential law will entail, he has pledged to work with state legislators on shaping said law. Despite this, Governor Herbert has distanced his administration from the release of the list, which he is quoted as regarding as “damaging to immigration reform efforts,” according to the Washington Post.

The release of such a list has the potential to generate even more mistrust among immigrant communities, who are already known for their lack of reliance and trust in immigration officials.  It is damaging to the fragile relationship between the United States government and the countless immigrant communities that rely upon it. 

The release of the Utah list may hopefully highlight a need for the discussion to truly begin regarding federal immigration law, which President Obama has said should be a priority in Congress. Unfortunately, issues such as unemployment benefits, energy conservation and financial reform have maintained the focus of Congress in the past months and it may be many more before this much needed discussion truly begins.

Filed under: Immigration Issues

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