Government Workers Get Wrist Slap for Illegally Exposing Information of 1300 People

June 14, 2011

Many people remember last summer when a list including the names of over 1300 supposedly undocumented immigrants was anonymously sent to addresses around Utah, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The list included not only names, but social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, up to 200 children’s names, and even pregnancy due dates.

Virtually all of the people identified on the list had Hispanic last names, and although the makers of the list alleged that all the individuals on it were undocumented and should be immediately deported, Utah Governor Gary Herbert subsequently reported that was not the case.

The release of this list raised fears among the 385,000 Latinos in Utah and millions of immigrants and their families across the country as a vivid reminder that discrimination and menace, whether directed at a U.S. citizen, lawful resident, or undocumented person, is alive and well.

Authorities quickly determined that two women, Theresa Bassett and Leah Carson, had illegally accessed the personal information of the listed people through their positions at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.  Governor Herbert immediately condemned the women’s actions as “deplorable” and responsible for “creating a climate of intimidation and fear in communities of color.”  Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff agreed that the list resembled a hit list meant “to put people at fear, to terrorize, to get people mobilized to do things.”  Immigrants and advocates around the country called for justice, but impunity prevailed.

On June 6, 2011, Bassett and Carson pleaded guilty to two third degree felonies and one class C misdemeanor and received their sentences.  Despite the forceful rhetoric by the governor and attorney general describing the women’s actions as “deplorable” “hit-list[s]” intended to “terrorize” communities of color, and despite the fact that just one count of stealing and releasing a public record could carry a one year prison sentence and $5,000 fine, Bassett was sentenced to just three years of probation and 240 hours of community service, while Carson received one year of probation and a $440 fine.   Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed claimed that the far lesser sentences were fair because the women had no criminal records, and astoundingly, because he claimed their actions had no lasting detrimental impact on the community.

There is a stark contrast between the probation to which the government workers were sentenced for illegally releasing the private and personal information of 1,300 people, potentially placing already vulnerable people at even greater risk, and the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who suffer lengthy detentions, remain separated from their families, and live in fear of deportation for citations that may be as small as selling water bottles on the street without a proper license.

Is the fact that their victims are generally of immigrant origin the reason Bassett and Carson are now free without spending a single day in prison?  And what will deter other government employees with a vendetta against immigrants from attempting similar security breaches in the future? These are the questions many are asking after Bassett’s and Carson’s sentencing.