Two Utah state employees are facing termination and possible criminal charges for allegedly exposing the names of over a thousand state residents believed to be illegal immigrants.
Earlier this month, someone calling themselves the “Concerned Citizens of the United States” anonymously sent to Utah media outlets and law-enforcement officials a 29-page list containing the names and personal details of 1,300 alleged illegal aliens living in the state. The list included a demand that those on it be “immediately deported.”
But officials have tracked the identifying information back to state Department of Workforce Services computers, and now, instead of the illegal immigrants answering to the authorities, two state employees charged with distributing the list face a criminal investigation.
State officials have confirmed that department employees breached a database to gather the personal information publicized on the list – including addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, due dates of several pregnant women and even Social Security numbers of the alleged illegal aliens’ children.
Utah’s Deseret News reports the workers – identified by various news sources as 15-year department employee Teresa Bassett and temporary worker Leah Carson – could be facing a $50,000 fine and up to a year in jail for disclosing private health information, with a possible increase to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if the conduct involves intent to sell or transfer the information for personal gain or malicious harm.
Utah Department of Workforce Services Director Kristen Cox told Salt Lake City’s KSTU-TV the investigation and available evidence has been turned over to the state’s attorney general.
“As to motive,” Cox told the station, “I think this indicates some overall frustration with immigration reform and the frustration a lot of people are feeling with the lack of action at the federal level. I think there was some strong political views that some of these people held.”
Cox admitted that some have reacted to the story by calling the former employees “patriots” or “heroes” but insists they’re mistaken, arguing that the department provides no nonemergency benefits to illegal immigrants.
“This isn’t just about the breach of illegal immigrants and this idea that they should be exposed,” Cox told the station. “This is about making sure that everyone’s data is secure that does business at our department.”
Utah’s Department of Workforce Services drafted an apology letter written in Spanish and English to be sent to those on the list, Deseret News reports. The letter reassures those named that the federal government prohibits the department from sharing information about alleged undocumented immigrants with immigration-enforcement agencies or law enforcement.
At least one state lawmaker, however, would like to see state employees – such as those charged in what has been called Utah’s “List-Gate” – cooperate with federal immigration authorities in identifying illegal immigrants.
“The best resource to solve this problem is the employees of the state,” Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, told Deseret News. “They interface with all the people on food stamps, on Medicaid” and other government assistance programs.
“I don’t think [illegal immigrants] ought to be on our welfare rolls,” Stowell added. “I think they ought to go back. But we’ve got to find a way to identify them.”
Utah’s Department of Workforce Services has established a Q&A page explaining their policies and legal limits in dealing with illegal immigrants.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told Salt Lake City’s KTVX-TV that even though the department has fingered Carson and Bassett as the “List-Gate” culprits, his office is starting their criminal investigation from scratch, not ruling out the possibility that there may have been others involved.