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Immigration Lawyers: Whitman Within Law to Continue Employing Housekeeper

The law may be on the side of California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (R) in the case of employing an undocumented housekeeper, immigration lawyers told the San Francisco Chronicle. Although Whitman allegedly received a letter from the government informing her that her housekeeper gave a mismatched Social Security number, the lawyers said she did not act unlawfully in continuing to employ the woman.

Whitman has acknowledged she employed Nicandra Diaz-Santillan, who is undocumented, for nine years, but claims the housekeeper gave her documents showing she was a legal worker. (She provided the documents to TMZ.) After receiving a letter from the Social Security Administration claiming their records did not match Diaz-Santillan’s documentation — Whitman said she never saw a 2003 letter sent to her husband about the housekeeper’s documents — immigration lawyers said employers must check their records for misspellings and inform their employee. Employers have no obligation to fire the employee, and such an action could even be discrimination, lawyers told the Chronicle:

“There is no additional legal obligation for an employer to follow up or respond to SSA with new information,” said Gening Liao, a labor and employment attorney at the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, which defends immigrants.

Liao added that it is “very important that the employer does not take adverse action against the employee” merely based on a letter from Social Security.

Nor was Diaz under any obligation to pursue the matter, Liao said. Correcting a mismatch is “primarily for the benefit of the employee,” she said, to make sure they can collect all the benefits due them for their work.

But immigration lawyers point out the Social Security records are prone to errors, particularly for name changes after marriage or divorce. “There are a lot of reasons other than immigration status that a Social Security number could be wrong,” Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Chronicle.

That is one of the central arguments against mandating employee verification through the E-Verify program, which has been slowly expanding from federal contractors to entire cities. Because the program allows

Whitman has argued for the program, stating support for employer crackdowns on her website: “We are never going to solve the problem of illegal immigration as long as there is strong demand for undocumented labor.”

Demand is a big problem, and the situation is a good example of the complicated relationship between undocumented workers and employers. Although many people — including Whitman herself — decry illegal immigration, workers without proper documents continue to find jobs. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated 27 percent of housekeepers in the U.S. are undocumented. Other professions have similarly high proportions of undocumented workers: They make up 25 percent of farm workers, 17 percent of construction workers and 20 percent of chefs and cooks.

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