Source: Utah computer specialist under investigation over list of purported illegal immigrants
SALT LAKE CITY – A computer specialist for a Utah state agency has come under suspicion in the distribution of a list of 1,300 purported illegal immigrants.
A person familiar with the case identified the worker Thursday as Teresa Bassett, who works in the Utah Department of Workforce Services. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to release details about the investigation. The Salt Lake Tribune first reported Bassett's identity.
Before joining the Department of Workforce Services, Bassett also worked for the Department of Technology Services and the Department of Corrections. She first began working for the state in November 1993.
State officials have begun the process of firing Bassett, but she was still listed as employed on Thursday. Department of Human Resource Management records show she was earning a salary of $47,528, according to information obtained through an open records request.
Bassett declined to comment Thursday, saying "I have been told under no circumstances am I supposed to make any comment whatsoever."
Department of Workforce Services spokesman Dave Lewis declined to comment on the employee's identity and said that department workers were told not to comment on the case to reporters.
The list was mailed to news media and law enforcement, and contained Social Security numbers, birth dates, workplaces, addresses and phone numbers. Names of children are included, along with due dates of pregnant women.
A letter attached to the list demands that those on it be deported, although some are in the country legally. The public release of the list created panic among many in the Hispanic community who feared they would be unfairly targeted by immigration officials.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have acknowledged receiving the list but declined to say whether anyone on it is being investigated.
Those identified on the list who match up with state records will receive a letter reassuring them that the agency respects their information and would not be acting on any information on it.
Utah officials have said two workers methodically viewed private records to compile the list. One worker was a temporary employee, who has been fired. The letter being sent to those on the list faulted "one of these employees distributed the list," but it does not specify which one.
"We sincerely regret the actions of these former employees and are reassesing our policies to determine other ways we can strengthen data security and prevent future breaches of confidentiality," said the letter, which was written in Spanish and English.
The letter also noted that federal law prohibits the department from sharing information about alleged undocumented immigrants with law enforcement.
About 1,100 of the 1,300 names have been found in state records, and Lewis said the other 200 may have had incorrect information that has made it difficult to match up.
"Our focus is on giving some peace to these individuals on the list," he said.
State officials have said most of those identified on the list have children who are legally receiving benefits.
The Department of Workforce Services administers food stamp programs and other benefits.
Intentionally releasing a private record in Utah is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Utah Attorney General's Office began investigating the compilation and release of the list for potential criminal prosecutions on Wednesday.
Office spokesman Paul Murphy declined to comment on the case.