The Insidious List

News recently broke that, in Salt Lake City, Utah, a group calling itself “Concerned Citizens of the United States” sent a memo to local newspapers, radio stations, television outlets, state law enforcement, immigration and DHS agents, and Utah legislators listing over 1,300 alleged “illegal immigrants” who the group believed should be “immediately deported.”  Next to each name appeared the person’s Social Security number, date of birth, address, and, at times, medical information, such as a pregnant woman’s due date.  The group claimed that it “observe[d] these individuals in our neighborhoods, driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools, and entering our public welfare buildings.”  It continued: “We spen[t] the time and effort needed to gather information along with legal Mexican nationals who infiltrate thei social networks and help us obtain the necessary information we need to add them to our list.”  The group then stepped up the volume: “We see a direct relationship between these illegal aliens and the escalation of crime in our communities in the form of drug and alcohol abuse, theft, and domestic violence. . . . They need to go and now.”  The group signed off with this missive: “We will be listening and watching.”

This feels eerily familiar.  In 1997, an anti-abortion group set up a website called Nuremberg Files that revealed abortion providers’ home addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and the names of their childrens’ schools.  The site listed abortion providers who had been wounded in grey and those who had been killed with their names struck in black.  To be sure, the “Concerned Citizens” memo neither threatened nor sought to incite violence as in the Nuremberg case.  Nonetheless, the memo took a hateful “us versus them” turn in suggesting that illegal aliens bear responsibility for increased drug abuse, crime, and domestic violence.  Akin to the Nuremberg Files case, the “Concerned Citizens” invaded the privacy interests of the listed individuals by giving publicity to their Social Security numbers.  While they declined to identify themselves, one imagines that they will be found and could face tort privacy claims.

Aside from its privacy implications, the list seems bent on intimidation, suggesting that the group inflitrated the alleged illegal aliens’ communities and would be “watching.”  Of course, the group could have provided tips to ICE and law enforcement — that would not be troubling.  But the group went so much further than that, sending the list of individuals’ personal information to media of all stripes.  This suggests an agenda to intimidate and bully.

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9 Responses

  1. It suggests an awareness that ICE isn’t terribly motivated to enforce our immigration laws, and needs public pressure to do so.

    I’m mixed on this. On the one hand, it is intimidation. On the other, this is a crime the government deliberately refrains from effectively going after, despite public opinion. It’s rather as though a local government corruptly refused to go after organized crime; What would you do, supply tips to the police? Not much point in that. So maybe you would simply go public with evidence, in the hope of embarrassing the government into acting.

    It’s rather unlike abortion, in that abortion is legal, hence the people being intimidated aren’t criminals.

  2. Logan Roise says:

    This is pretty disturbing. Like Brett states, going public with evidence might encourage the government to act but this group could have revealed a lot less information (Due dates? That’s a little much) and still put pressure on the government. If the letter was less about intimidation, in my opinion, it might have been prudent for the group to have first released a letter to media outlets indicating they knew of a large amount of illegal immigrants the policy refused to deport but it appears they skipped that step.

    Finally, I’m not sure if you meant it this way Brett (but this is how I read it), you seem to be insinuating that the listed individuals are guilty. Most likely a large portion, if not more, of these individuals did indeed immigrate illegally but as of now this looks more like a House Committee on Un-American Activities blacklist during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism than anything else.

  3. Random 1L says:

    Stupid question, but if these people are “Illegal Immigrants” then how do they have Social Security numbers to publicize?

  4. “Finally, I’m not sure if you meant it this way Brett (but this is how I read it), you seem to be insinuating that the listed individuals are guilty.”

    If they’re not, they’ve got excellent libel cases.

    “Stupid question, but if these people are “Illegal Immigrants” then how do they have Social Security numbers to publicize?”

    It can happen; You can immigrate legally, get a SS number, and then not leave when you lose your immigration status.

  5. r2d2 says:

    Brett – Do you think that the goal is to embarrass the government? The point seems to be intimidating the individuals. That is the only reason for giving the extensive personal information.

    If the members of the group have done anything illegal in compiling and distributing the information, I hope we will get their social security numbers and addresses.

  6. Random 1L says:

    Ah. Thanks Brett. Been reading Texas Establishment Clause/Free Exercise cases all day, so I’m working a bit slowly. 😀

  7. Paul Horwitz says:

    Danielle, you have probably posted about this before, so forgive me, but I was wondering what your views are on the publication of information regarding the supporters of Proposition 8, and the similar actions discussed in the recent Doe v. Reed case. Of course there are differences between all these different examples, but would you say the intent of the actions in the Prop 8 case was also to intimidate and bully?

  8. lawanon says:

    I think the goal here is not to intimidate illegal aliens, but to intimidate the government that has been refusing to enforce the law. If the group merely said, “there are a lot of illegal aliens out here,” the government would simply respond that those people aren’t illegal, the information is false, etc. So, the only solution is to post full info publicly. That way, if anyone has contrary info, they can come forward and humiliate the group. If nobody is coming forward, the group’s credibility increases. Next time, it will be able to simply say that “we have a list”, without disclosing it, and people will believe that the list is legit.

    Frankly, I think it’s worrisome that citizens feel so disenfranchised that they find it necessary to turn to such means to enforce the law on the books. If the officials don’t like the law, they should work to change it, not to refuse to enforce it. That undermines civil society and causes vigilantism.

  9. Danielle Citron says:

    Thanks for the excellent commentary. Just a few thoughts on situating Doe v. Reed here. Doe v. Reed is a bit different in that it involved governmental revelation of expressive activity and here we have private actors engaged in a form of public vigilantism. I’m sympathetic to the Doe v. Reed plaintiffs and disagreed with the publication of the petition lists (I saw the trial testimony differently) given the retaliation concerns and the seemingly little legitimate need to release the names. Thanks, all.