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“We ought to be going after the bad guys”

July 21, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



Last week, a letter was released to Utah media, law enforcement, and legislators by "Concerned Citizens of the United States."  Attached to the letter was a list of 1,300 names of individuals who the authors "believed" were "illegal immigrants."  It was more than just names that were released.  Also included on the list were addresses, Social Security Numbers, birth dates, the names of children, and the due dates of women who were pregnant.


Someone took it upon themselves to release the private information of people they judged to be in the country illegally.  The people on the list—here legally or not, citizen or not—now have to worry that it is open season on them for identity thieves or worse.  Release of the list is a chilling development in an immigration debate increasingly marked by hysterical rhetoric and violent xenophobia. 


While Congress seems content to allow the problem to fester, the State of Utah acted swiftly.  On July 16, Utah's Republican Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, announced that there would be an "aggressive investigation" into the release of the list, and the persons responsible would face state charges and likely would face federal charges as well.  The Utah AG is working with the U.S. Attorney's office.  On July 20, the Utah Governor's office issued a release announcing that the investigation into the matter was complete.  Two employees of the Utah Department of Workforce Services have received "intent to terminate" notices from the state, and information from the investigation has been turned over to the Attorney General's office.


In the press conference, Mr. Shurtleff sought to assure people that the state government was not going to use the list to round people up.


"People call it a black list. I see it more as a hit list, more reminiscent of what happened in Nazi Germany. … I understand the threat is real and I just hope people take comfort in knowing that that's not how we do things and that the State of Utah itself is not going to be using this list in order to start knocking on doors and rounding up people."


In his view, enforcement should focus on dangerous criminals.


"Enforcement-only… we think is counter-productive, harmful ultimately to public safety and to our efforts … and it's very important to understand that the people whose names may be on this list in the immigrant community—legal and illegal or documented and undocumented—are important to us as confidential informants all working together because we are all being victimized by the bad guys, and that's who we ought to be going after, and any effort to try and turn the people against and put the government against everybody who is in this country really harms that effort to try and root out those who are the danger…."


(You can listen to a recording of the press conference, which also featured John Wester, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, Paul Mero, of the conservative Sutherland Institute, Luz Robles of the Utah State Senate, and Clarissa Martinez, of the National Council of La Raza, by going to this page of our Web site.)


The Utah response to this incident is in sharp contrast to Arizona, where SB 1070, if it is not blocked by the courts, goes into effect next week.  That law will have police "going against everybody."  Instead of going after the bad guys, Arizona police will be overwhelmed by the law’s directive to arrest persons who they believe might be in the country illegally and the subsequent paperwork.


In terms of public safety, the effects of SB 1070 can be previewed in new research by America's Voice.  In the state of Arizona, violent crime rates have been going down throughout the state—except in areas policed by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.  Under the leadership of Joe Arpaio, that office has made it a priority to go after otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. 


"From 2002 to 2009, while the violent crime rate across the state as a whole decreased by 12 percent, the area policed by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office suffered a 58 percent increase in violent crime. Compare that 58 percent crime increase to other law enforcement agencies in Maricopa County who engaged in community policing, not targeting immigrants. In that same time period, Phoenix enjoyed a 14 percent decrease; Tempe, a 26 percent decrease; and Mesa, a 31 percent decrease."


Sheriff Arpaio has made the decision not to focus on "the bad guys," and public safety in Maricopa County is suffering.


At the national level, we are unfortunately getting a little of the taste of Arpaio's failures in Arizona.  On July 15, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released one of their quarterly reports showing that criminal prosecutions of immigration violators have reached the peak levels of the Bush Administration.  In other reports, TRAC has noted that immigration prosecutions now make up more than 50% of all federal prosecutions, and the most common prosecution is for illegal entry.  Federal prosecution of other, more serious, crimes is declining.


The continued escalation in the prosecution of immigration violators by this Administration may soon be reflected in the crime statistics, as it has in Maricopa County, Arizona.  Communities along the border and elsewhere will see their violent crime rates go up, they will be less safe, and their jails will be filled with people who came here to find work.


Image by Flickr user Faithful Chant.

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