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Huffington Admits Fault in Hiring Illegal Immigrant

October 28, 1994|DAVE LESHER and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTA BARBARA — In an emotional confession of wrongdoing, Republican Senate candidate Mike Huffington and his wife, Arianna, told reporters at a news conference Thursday that they violated federal law by employing an illegal immigrant at their home for more than four years and did not pay the required taxes on her salary for about a year.

Huffington said that against his own advice, the couple retained the woman as a nanny for their children because their children had grown so close to her. They said they tried to obtain federal approval for the woman to work in the country legally, but she remained undocumented throughout her employment.

Huffington said the woman's job ended in the summer of 1993, more than six months after Huffington was sworn in as a freshman congressman and shortly before Huffington announced his challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The GOP candidate blamed his wife for hiring the woman and said he had not been involved in the decision, but added that he took full responsibility for the action. Although he said he would pay a fine for the violation if he is cited by authorities, he downplayed the seriousness of the infractions.

"We have made a mistake, there is no question about it," he said. "(But) who among us has not broken the law? Who among us has not rolled through a stop sign? Who among us has not gone past 55 miles an hour? . . . We are all human . . . and if we make a mistake . . . we should own up to it. Which I have done and Arianna has done."

The Immigration and Naturalization Service said Thursday that based on the news reports, investigators will begin an inquiry to determine whether laws were broken. Officials declined to elaborate on what the scope or focus of the probe would be. It is a violation of federal law to hire an illegal immigrant.

"The only information we have at this point is what we've seen attributed to Mr. Huffington in the news media," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the INS western regional headquarters in Laguna Niguel. "Based on that, we are going to look into the matter."

Political experts said the revelation comes at a crucial time in the Senate race.

Huffington's campaign, locked in a close race with Feinstein less than two weeks before Election Day, scrambled Thursday to assess the political damage after the report in Thursday's editions of The Times, which was picked up widely on radio and television. The candidate canceled a morning event in Los Angeles, and staff members huddled at the Orange County campaign headquarters without making statements to the media.

About 2 p.m., the campaign alerted the media to a news conference in Santa Barbara to "set the record straight." The location and timing limited media access from Los Angeles and San Francisco because of travel time and avoided network news broadcasts on the East Coast. Still, a bank of reporters and cameras faced the confident-looking candidate and his tentative wife seated at a table.

The couple was peppered with questions about the employee, whom Arianna Huffington identified by the name Marisela.

The candidate also was asked to reconcile his tough stand against illegal immigration--including support for Proposition 187, which would deny education and non-emergency health care to illegal immigrants--and how he could employ an illegal immigrant when he wanted others to leave the country.

In response, Huffington seemed to soften his tough talk on Proposition 187 and other immigration questions. Instead of seeking the ouster of illegal immigrants in the country, Huffington said, his support of the measure was primarily aimed at easing a financial burden on the state. At one point he seemed to say that he thought there was nothing wrong with employing illegal immigrants, as long as state tax money is not involved.

"If there are illegal immigrants here who are using taxpayer-paid services . . . that is not appropriate," he said, adding that he also supported more guards to enforce the border. "Neither of those things had to do with our employment of this individual.

"I have never said that we should go from house to house . . . and find household help that has come into the country illegally and send them back to their country," he added. "I have said, though, anyone using state services such as welfare or education or health care, if they are being paid for by the state, not by private citizens, but by the state, that's an inappropriate use of funds. And that is one reason I said I would vote for 187."

Among the other disclosures during the 30-minute briefing were:

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