Sunday, October 10, 2010

Housekeeper safe from deportation for now, immigration experts say (McClatchy via Lexington Herald-Leader)

Housekeeper safe from deportation for now, immigration experts say
By SUSAN FERRISS - McClatchy Newspapers
Friday, Oct. 01, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif -- SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Nicky Diaz Santillan has been outed across the nation as an illegal immigrant who used fake ID to gain employment with California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

But immigration law experts say authorities are unlikely to move in to deport or prosecute Whitman's former housekeeper any time soon. Diaz Santillan, they say, is probably safe - for now.

"I think that everyone is almost frozen in time now," said Kevin R. Johnson, an immigration law professor and dean of the University of California, Davis School of Law.

Johnson said Diaz Santillan does expose herself to deportation by publicly offering her story and admitting she was undocumented when she went to work for Whitman, a Republican, in 2000.

But Johnson said it would be politically difficult for federal officials to seize Diaz Santillan now.

"It would look like they are going after a whistle-blower, and just five weeks before the election," he said. "Imagine the backlash."

Other illegal immigrants who have gone public for various reasons have eventually ended up deported, Johnson said, including a woman who lived in a church for months to avoid authorities.

But others have been left alone, including some undocumented students who have lived here since childhood.

If Diaz Santillan also goes ahead with her plan to file a legal complaint against Whitman for alleged wage abuse, then the housekeeper could get a reprieve while that legal action is pending, said Bill Hing, another immigration expert and professor at the University of San Francisco.

Immigration authorities over the last decade, almost by tradition, Hing said, "don't touch" undocumented workers while a case is pending.

"But I have seen them (immigration officials) go after immigrants after things are settled," Hing said.

Johnson said that historically, cases of prosecution of a single worker for using a fake document to get a job - a common practice for more than 20 years - have been rare.

Only in recent years, during the end of the George W. Bush administration, did authorities mount a few showcase prosecutions of meat-packing workers charged with using fake Social Security numbers. Felony charges for using a fake number can result in prison time.

Hing said that when it comes to fake documents, investigators are typically interested in prosecuting manufacturers and rings that sell false ID cards on the black market.

A statement by Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seemed to echo that.
Kice's statement said that ICE is focused on "enforcement that prioritizes efforts to target dangerous criminal aliens and others who present the greatest risk to our communities."

ICE focuses on identifying "employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers and engage in related crimes such as worker exploitation, visa fraud and human smuggling and trafficking," the statement continued.

Asked whether the agency planned to detain Diaz Santillan, Kice said ICE doesn't disclose specific future enforcement action "as a matter of policy."

Hing recalled that the trade in fake documents began to proliferate after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. That act made it illegal to knowingly hire undocumented workers and required employers ask applicants to provide certain forms of ID to prove legal status.

But the 1986 law doesn't require that employers authenticate ID cards. They only have to see them and record information on a form.

Whitman has said that she was "deceived" by Diaz Santillan and that she believed the housekeeper's documents were authentic.

In meetings with reporters this week, Diaz Santillan's attorney, Gloria Allred, was asked about the timing of the housekeeper's decision to go public and whether Diaz Santillan was getting paid.

Allred said Diaz Santillan was not getting paid by anyone, and that the housekeeper had only recently contacted her.

Allred suggested that Whitman had engaged in a form of "don't ask, don't tell," with Diaz Santillan until the housekeeper went to Whitman in 2009 and asked her employer, who was already running for governor, if she could help her employee obtain legal status.

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