Meg Whitman responds to immigrant maid allegations, says she did nothing wrongBy Michael R. Blood, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Whitman fires back about illegal immigrant maid
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Meg Whitman said Thursday that her former housekeeper might have intercepted a 2003 government letter warning that the maid could be in the country illegally as the Republican gubernatorial candidate denounced the story as a “baseless smear attack.”
For a second straight day, Whitman forcefully denied that she knew her housekeeper was in the country illegally for years and called the allegations a “political smear on me, on my family, and based on lies.” She said her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, was behind the story and that the housekeeper was being manipulated for political gain.
The housekeeper’s attorney, Gloria Allred, has said she will release evidence later Thursday to show Whitman knew she employed an illegal worker.
Specifically, Whitman disputes that she received a 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration that said the Social Security number provided by the housekeeper did not match the name on file.
When asked at a news conference whether the worker, Nicky Diaz Santillan, might have taken the letter intended for Whitman, she said “it’s very possible.” The housekeeper was in charge of going through the mail, she said.
“She might have been on the lookout for that letter,” Whitman said. “It would pain me to believe that that’s what she might have done but I have no other explanation.”
Whitman said repeatedly that she and her husband were shocked when Diaz Santillan, their housekeeper of nine years, came to them and confessed she was in the U.S. illegally in June 2009, nearly five months after Whitman had announced an exploratory run for California governor. She said she immediately suspended her and later fired her.
The immigration flap has served as a major headache for Whitman in her tight race against Brown. They are in a dead heat according to the latest polls, despite Whitman having spent nearly $120 million of her fortune so far.
Whitman has called for tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, and the allegations could undercut her credibility just weeks before Election Day and damage her image, particularly with Hispanics she has pursued for months.
When asked why she didn’t turn the former employee into authorities, Whitman said “I was very fond of Nicky and I didn’t want to make an example of her.” She said her current housekeeper is “absolutely documented to work there.”
“It’s not an obligation of the employer to turn in illegal employees and I just thought ‘I’m not gonna make an example of Nicky,’” Whitman said.
The campaign released employment applications filled out when the former housekeeper was hired in 2000, including a copy of a Social Security card and a California driver’s license, that indicated the woman was a legal resident. Whitman’s campaign has said Diaz Santillan admitted to using her sister’s documents when she applied for the $23-an-hour job.
The timing of the allegations, the lack of documentation to support the claims and Allred’s Democratic ties left her open to questions about motive in the tight race. Allred once gave money to Brown, and she was a Hillary Rodham Clinton delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Asked about timing and her political links, Allred said the former housekeeper “just recently contacted me.” She noted her donation to Brown in his race for attorney general was $150, although she has given to other Democrats, including President Barack Obama and California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The allegations also come ahead of a scheduled Saturday Spanish-language debate that will include questions of importance to the Hispanic community.
Whitman has aggressively wooed Hispanic voters, who are typically Democratically aligned, and recent public opinion polls show she is having some success.
Whitman has Spanish-language radio and TV ads and billboards — even Spanish-language posters at bus stops in Hispanic neighborhoods.
The letter at issue — dated April 22, 2003, according to Allred — noted a discrepancy between the Social Security number provided by the housekeeper and the name on file with the agency.
Such letters can be a tip-off about possible immigration problems, although the agency stopped sending them to employers in 2007.
The housekeeper said she was told to “check on this,” then never heard about the letter again. Allred said Whitman continued to receive letters about the mismatched Social Security number, which Diaz Santillan found in the trash.
According to the Social Security Administration’s website, such letters first go to the employee, and then are sent to an employer about two weeks later — making it plausible that Diaz Santillan could have been on the lookout for it.
Agency spokesman Mark Lassiter said that from 2003-2006 an employer had to have more than 10 employees whose Social Security numbers and names did not match to receive a warning letter. It was not immediately clear how many domestic employees Whitman had during that time.
“An employer with one or two employees in 2003 to 2006 would not have gotten an employer … letter,” Lassiter said.
In 2000, when Diaz Santillan was hired through an agency, Whitman said “we specified with the agent we wanted to make sure we had someone who was here legally to work in the United States.”
Whitman gave the name of the employment agency that connected her family with Diaz Santillan, Town & Country Resources in Menlo Park. Jens Hillen, co-president of the company, did not return multiple calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Allred also said Diaz Santillan was mistreated, and said she will file a claim against Whitman for back pay and mileage. She provided no proof to document those allegations.
Whitman denied the allegation and said Diaz Santillan was treated exceptionally well. She said she was like a member of the family, frequently bringing her children to Whitman’s home, where they played in Whitman’s leafy backyard with the family dog.
Brown’s spokesman, Sterling Clifford, said in a statement that Whitman apparently thinks the rules don’t apply to her.
“After more than a year of Whitman demanding immigration policy that ‘holds employers accountable,’ we learn that accountability doesn’t extend to her own actions,” he said.
One of the state’s largest public employee unions immediately released a Spanish-language attack ad accusing her of saying one thing in her Spanish-language ads and another when she speaks in English.
“Whitman attacks undocumented workers to win votes, but an undocumented woman worked in her home for nine years,” says the ad, which the Service Employees International Union said would begin airing Saturday.
Clifford said the Browns use a well-known national housekeeping service that comes twice a month to their home in the Oakland Hills. He said Brown has never knowingly employed an illegal immigrant.
Allred is known for savvy — some say manipulative — media skills that get her clients in the public eye. She’s represented Jodie Fisher, whose sexual harassment allegations led to the ouster of former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd and a stuntwoman who claimed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign defamed her after she alleged the former bodybuilder groped her.
Her decision to withhold “evidence” related to the Diaz Santillan case until Thursday guaranteed her case another day of headlines.
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