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'Outing' illegal immigrants: Utah grapples with 'listgate'

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Mr. Shurtleff likened the list's release to Nazism. “You replace 'Mexican,' you replace 'illegal alien' … with 'Jew,' and use that same kind of language – that was spread throughout Nazi hit lists in Germany,” he told Utah's KSL-TV on Friday.

Immigration experts say the list episode highlights the fact that anti-immigration forces feel more emboldened these days, having succeeded in getting local and state governments to take a much more aggressive posture toward illegal immigrants.

Indeed, nearly 200 immigration-related bills passed state and local legislatures between 2007 and 2009, in 40 states and ranging in topic from law enforcement and employer verification to identification and licenses, according to Catherine Wilson, an immigration specialist at the political science department at Villanova University.

Whatever motivated those who compiled the lists – some suggest the public's patience with the federal government's failure to enforce immigration laws and protect the interests of American workers and taxpayers is wearing out – the plan may have backfired. Its release may cause a backlash that harms the cause it sought to boost, immigration experts say.

“Popular movements can become extreme and produce blowback, and the illegal release of names in Utah may do that,” says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. “Conspicuous violation of the law is always controversial and takes the focus off of the problem of illegal immigration that the disclosure was about in the first place," he says. "So in that sense, it’s counterproductive.”

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