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Leavitt draws anger at rally of Hispanics

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Members of Utah's Hispanic community demonstrated Friday against Gov. Mike Leavitt's response to a December roundup of Salt Lake City International Airport workers and argued among themselves the reason for the rally's low turnout.

About 30 people, including some of the 69 indicted for allegedly falsifying documents or lying to get jobs at the airport, called for Leavitt to take a stand against the way the federal crackdown was handled. Aside from the 69 workers, many of whom are Hispanic and worked in secure areas, 202 others were fired from their jobs but not indicted at the end of the seven-week-long "Operation Safe Travel."

"We want the governor to hear us," said Socorro Sanchez in Spanish. Her son was arrested, but charges against him were dropped because he hadn't worked at the airport since October.

Natalie Gochnour, Leavitt's spokeswoman, said Leavitt knew about the rally but was not at the Capitol during the noon rally.

Though it is primarily a federal issue, the state's role, she said, was to assist in the background checks of workers. Leavitt was briefed about the indictments prior to the raid but knew nothing more than the number and nature of the violations, she said.

The state has taken part in human service efforts for families of the workers by contacting agencies that can help, Gochnour said. Employees from the governor's office have met with Hispanic leaders, and Leavitt continually receives briefings on the situation, she added.

Friday's rally drew far fewer people than a similar event at the City-County Building Dec. 14. Attorney Mark Alvarez, whose law firm is representing five workers, said he had hoped for between 100 and 500 people at the rally.

Some demonstrators think the low turnout was because of an announcement earlier this week on Radio Unica, a local Spanish-language radio station. Sanchez said the station warned local Hispanics on Wednesday not to attend the rally because officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service would be there.

Jose Libardo Rivera, Radio Unica vice president of marketing, said he never made any such announcement or referred to the INS, and he thinks no one else from the station did either.

"It's a complete lie," he said in Spanish. "I don't personally support it, but I respected other people."

He said he didn't support the demonstration because it was the third since the roundup. Too many rallies confuse the community's stance on the issue, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Paul Warner has dismissed charges against at least seven of the 69 workers for humanitarian reasons, said the office's spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch.

Alvarez has expressed hope that the trials will be transferred from federal to state court or that charges will be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors because they are disparate for the crimes committed. Rydalch said that won't happen and that similar indictments are usually treated as felonies.

Reducing charges would increase the likelihood that workers, if deported by the INS, would have an easier time re-entering the United States in the future, said Steve Branch, INS officer in charge for Utah. Branch met with the group, Alianza Latina, Friday night at the City-County Building to answer questions about the crackdown and immigration laws in general.

E-mail: lwhite@desnews.com