Posted on November 4, 2004

Activists In Southern Utah Target Illegal Immigration

Mark Havnes, The Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 2

ST. GEORGE — Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Judy Randall was angry when a cultivated field of marijuana was discovered in Pine Valley north of St. George.

She said the field, guarded by four undocumented immigrants, was indicative of what to expect in the future — unless something is done about controlling illegal access into the country from Mexico.

“They were from other countries and being paid $200 a day to guard the crop,” said Randall. “They were all armed and dangerous.”

Randall’s comments came late last week during the second meeting in this southwest Utah community of the Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration — created to study what its members see as the social consequences of illegal immigration.

Randall, who says she serves on the committee as a resident and not as a sheriff’s representative, runs the council’s law-enforcement group.

She said she is saddened by the lack of outrage among residents over the marijuana bust.

Citizens Council member Larry Meyers pointed out that his group does not mean to suggest that every Latino is a criminal and in the state illegally, but, he says, the group is looking at credible ways of compiling such statistics.

Meanwhile, the St. George Police Department says it does not see a disproportionate number of crimes committed by Latinos.

Tony Yapias, director of the Governor’s Office of Hispanic Affairs, has accused the Citizens Council of distorting the truth.

Yapias, who visited St. George last week to meet with Latinos, said the majority of immigrants come to the United States to work hard and gain a better life, not to commit crimes. “Groups like [the citizens council] cause a lot of fear and anxiety in the Latino community,” said Yapias.

“Everyone with dark skin is singled out [as undocumented], even those here legally.”

But on Thursday, Citizens Council Chair Phyllis Sears said it is the responsibility of the governments of impoverished countries to institute systems that abolish the corruption at the root of economic destitution so people can “bloom where they are planted. Nothing is going to change as long as we take the overflow [from countries] that don’t take matters into their own hands.”

Raquel Mortenson, who is Latina, took exception to that statement. She said many immigrants are coming here to take jobs that people already here do not want, while others are as competent to compete for jobs as anyone else.

Sears said the council is exploring the idea of creating a register of area businesses willing to swear they do not hire undocumented workers.

Another speaker, Marge Robinson, who heads the council’s media-relations committee, suggested some undocumented immigrants come to Utah to take advantage of the tolerant attitudes encouraged by the state’s predominant religion.

“They have us targeted,” said Robinson.