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She Said, She Said

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Here we go again.

Meg Whitman says she had no idea that she was employing an illegal immigrant for nine years and fired Nikki Diaz Santillan as soon as she found out.

Gloria Allred says she did know and alleges the Social Security Administration told Whitman and her husband in a letter, found with his handwriting on it, six years before they fired her.

Whitman says she'll take a polygraph test. Her husband isn't talking. Allred admits she's supporting Brown.

Does it matter?

Colin Powell admits that there are people who do work around his house who are almost certainly not documented. It's one more reason why I like Colin Powell. Or two: He's honest, and he's not a hypocrite.

As in most such cases, it is almost certainly impossible to reach an objective conclusion as to what Whitman knew and when she knew it. It's certainly plausible that the housekeeper intercepted the mail; it's very likely that Whitman and her husband relied on the employment agency to make sure the woman they were hiring was in this country legally and qualified to work.

What bothers me is every time Whitman says her housekeeper was a member of her extended family and that she feels sorry for her.

Is that why she fired her?

Is that why she opposes creating a path to legalization for women like Nikki, who have worked hard, who are members of our families, who have cleaned our houses and raised our children?

I should add that when I say "our," I don't mean "my" -- but I do mean many people I know, including many who agree with Whitman on the issues. My housekeeper -- who is a member not of my extended family but of my family, period -- is a United States citizen. I pay Social Security and provide health insurance. I have no plans to run for office or to be confirmed for anything. I do it because we're both getting on, and I want her to be able to retire with dignity.

I thank my lucky stars that I insisted on the health insurance. After years of her telling me that it was just a waste of my money, she got sick last year. She will be the first to tell you that she almost certainly would have died had the wonderful doctors at Kaiser Permanente -- paid for by that insurance -- not taken such good care of her.

It's not about what the law requires, but what decency demands. When someone comes into your home and takes care of your children, the obligations go in both directions. When my kids were younger, other mothers would literally tell me that my babysitter was "poisoning the well" by telling their sitters that I was encouraging her to take English classes, giving her time off to do so and tutoring her for her citizenship exam, not to mention the Social Security payments. And in the next breath, they would tell me that they opposed "amnesty." For whom?

Meg Whitman is a billionaire. She has spent more than $100 million on mostly mediocre campaign commercials that have left her either tied or trailing. Couldn't she spare something for the woman who helped free her to make all that money, who did the errands while she was at work, picked up her children and did their laundry? Why didn't she give her money for a lawyer, give her help in exploring her options, take good enough care of her that she wouldn't be vulnerable to be "used" by Allred? And why does she oppose the very sort of path to legalization that she says she was willing to help Nikki with, only to be told that none was available?

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