A man in the second row raised his hand with a thought: “What if we got together a formal letter to pass a law [for businesses] not to hire illegals? And have the senators sign it?” Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minuteman Project (UMP) gives the suggestion some consideration. “You know, we did just that a couple years ago,” Cawley says, then raising his voice at least a decibel louder. “It was shot down by the conservative House of Representatives.” A grumble of disapproval runs throughout the crowd of roughly 30 at the Minuteman Project meeting, crammed into a small auditorium of the West Valley City Library.
The crowd is out in force and, while it’s not exactly an army, it is some of the best attendance the project has seen in years. Made up of mostly older men—decked out in jeans, work boots, a smattering of Hawaiian shirts, with some wheeling the occasional oxygen tank—the group is fired up. And, under a new board of directors led by Cawley, the group plans to move beyond simple rallies and letter writing. They hope to use the implementation of the controversial omnibus immigration bill—Senate Bill 81—as a vehicle for pressuring businesses and state agencies to enforce immigration laws.
For Cawley, who has chaired since 2007, the controversial and often labeled racist, grass-roots anti-immigration group, feels that now that SB 81 is in effect, the UMP, as a pressure group, has more ability to campaign against the effects of the “invasion” of the estimated more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants that reside in Utah.
Until now, Cawley says, “It’s been so convenient for businessmen, politicians and ethnic pimps who pander and aggrandize their own ethnic groups against the larger whole. The enactment of these state laws may provide a bit more teeth, so that we can justify trying to put pressure on these people to enforce [immigration laws].”
Cawley recognizes that SB 81 in many ways emulates federal laws that he says immigrants and government agencies already ignore. As a case in point, numerous law enforcement officials including Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank have vowed not to take part in a component of SB 81 that would cross-deputize local law enforcement with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement powers. Cawley also sees SB 81’s attempt at verifying the legal status of workers for certain state projects as fraught with comparable loopholes to the current federal system.
But during the group’s recent meeting, however, he proposed the UMP nonetheless make a “full-court press” by cultivating employees with insider knowledge of companies that hire undocumented labor and then using the information to challenge company management.
“Then the human resource departments and the management start having side conversations,” says Norm Davis, chairman of the Minuteman standing subcommittees. “Pretty soon, you empty out these plants.” Another suggestion involved protesting the Utah Department of Workforce Services, while others discussed forming a Minuteman seal of approval for businesses that don’t employ undocumented labor.
Plans to get close and put more pressure on business and government might not quite make Cawley into the Tim DeChristopher of anti-immigration activists, but it is part of the changes he made since he took over.
Cawley rewrote the bylaws to give the membership more say and more control over UMP business, and feels the group has been reinvigorated as a result. Still, he says, the group is behind in other areas.
“We don’t have any [outreach],” Cawley says regarding recruitment especially with the Website, which is actually owned and operated by former Chairman Alex Segura.While still small (Cawley has added 100 members since he became chairman), the group has grown in spite of the group’s lack of tech savvy or coordinated outreach. That’s because, Cawley says, the UMP emphasizes a message that’s not racist but is about preserving an American identity centered on the Constitution and the rule of law. It’s a message that’s resonating even among Latino citizens who, Cawley says, are expressing interest in the UMP.
“We can’t just restrict ourselves to focusing on one specific ethnicity; we need to be focusing on those things that bind us together,” Cawley says.
Still, individual members can get riled up once the discussion gets started. Like at a recent meeting where one concerned member questioned the security threat of Latino families patronizing Toys for Tots programs at bases like Hill Air Force. “Isn’t that like a breach of homeland security?” the member asked.