Whitman admits to employing illegal immigrant for 9 years

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 17:10 EDT
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‘From now on, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you’

Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor of California, looked the other way for years while employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper, a prominent California attorney representing the housekeeper alleged Thursday.

The claim comes at an inconvenient time for Whitman, who is fighting Democrat Jerry Brown for the governorship of California and who just yesterday called for a crackdown on employers hiring illegal immigrants.

Some political observers say the housekeeper’s revelation is a signal of the anger of some in the Latino community towards Republicans in the wake of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.

At a press conference in Sacramento Thursday, former Whitman housekeeper Nicky Diaz Santillan said she was treated like “garbage” during the nine years she worked in the Whitman household, from 2000 to 2009. She says she was paid for 15 hours per week while working longer than those hours, was threatened with being fired when she became pregnant, and was finally fired when she asked Whitman for help in securing legal status for herself, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Accompanied by lawyer Gloria Allred, Santillan told reporters that Whitman’s husband “yelled” at her after she opened up about her immigration status last year. The former housekeeper said Whitman consulted with a lawyer over the matter, and then told her, “From now on you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. You have never seen me, and I have never seen you. Do you understand me?”

In a press statement Thursday, Whitman said she didn’t know her housekeeper of nine years was an illegal immigrant until the housekeeper admitted it in June of last year. Whitman alleged Santillan had falsified Social Security papers to make it appear she was in the US legally.

“I believe Nicky is being manipulated by Gloria Allred for political and financial purposes during the last few weeks of a hotly contested election,” Whitman said in the statement. “This is a shameful example of the politics of personal destruction practiced by people like Jerry Brown and Gloria Allred. The charges are without merit.”

But Whitman’s former employee says the candidate knew of her immigration status and chose to look the other way. In her statement (PDF, courtesy of TMZ), Santillan said a letter arrived from the Social Security Administration in 2003 warning the Whitmans that Santillan may be working illegally because her Social Security number was a mismatch. The Whitmans, Santillan alleges, never followed up on the claim.

Liz Goodwin at The Upshot argues that the allegations could hurt Whitman “on two fronts — with conservative anti-illegal immigration voters who may not believe that Whitman did not know Diaz was illegal, as well as with some Latino voters, who may well credit Diaz’s claims that Whitman was a cruel and unfeeling employer taking advantage of a vulnerable illegal immigrant.”

Whitman has been walking a fine line on the immigration issue — a line so fine that some have accused her of being duplicitous in her approach. Alex Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress writes:

Whitman continually sends “two conflicting messages” on immigration. While she has made reaching out to the large Latino population of California a major emphasis of her campaign, she has taken a much harsher tone when speaking with the English press. For example, she put up over 30 Spanish billboards in Latino-heavy areas of the state professing her opposition to Arizona’s harsh immigration law, but recently told a local radio station that the law “should stand for Arizona,” and that “the federal government [should not] be telling Arizona what to do.” She also wrote a Spanish-language editorial suggesting that she and Brown “share an almost identical immigration platform.” But at last night’s debate, Brown said he supports a path to citizenship while Whitman said she opposes the concept.

Seitz-Wald notes that just the day before the allegations, Whitman argued for a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers. During a debate Wednesday night, Whitman promised more resources for “enforcement of businesses hiring illegal immigrants” if elected, the LA Times reported.

But Whitman has also reportedly come out against Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which requires police to check the documentation of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

This video is from TMZ, broadcast Sept. 29, 2010.

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