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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 at least four years and that they did not pay the required taxes on her salary for about a year.

The GOP candidate blamed his wife for hiring the woman and said he had not been involved in the decision, but took responsibility because, "as the head of my household, the buck stops with me." Huffington also said he would pay a fine if he is cited by authorities, but he downplayed the seriousness of the violation.

"We have made a mistake, there is no question about it," said Huffington, who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "(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 information first disclosed by The Times, investigators will begin an inquiry to determine whether laws were broken. Since 1986, federal law has made it a crime for employers to hire illegal immigrants, with violators subject to fines of up to $10,000 per worker.

"Based on (news reports), we are going to look into the matter," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the INS western regional headquarters in Laguna Niguel.

In his comments Thursday, Huffington downplayed an accusation that he and his campaign had made without offering proof Wednesday night: that Feinstein had also employed illegal immigrants on her household staff.

Feinstein denied the allegation Thursday in a San Francisco campaign appearance. She added: "I think here is a situation where he would not have told the truth again had he not been confronted with the real facts."

Gov. Pete Wilson declined to comment directly on Huffington's situation, but stated: "What I will say is, the law requires that employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants suffer a penalty."

Political experts said Huffington's confession is likely to damage the Republican campaign, especially because the candidate has been such an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and supporter of Proposition 187, the controversial measure on the ballot that would deny education and health benefits to illegal immigrants. In the news conference Thursday, Huffington seemed to soften his immigration views.

"It suggests that his position on this issue is one fraught with hypocrisy," said Larry Berg, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "If you are going to say what he has said for the past six months, this is not something you want to do."

The Feinstein campaign reportedly was preparing a television ad late Thursday to attack Huffington on the issue.

In the news conference, Huffington said that against his better judgment the couple retained the immigrant as a nanny for their children because the children had grown so close to her. The Huffingtons said they tried to obtain federal approval for the woman to work in the country legally, but she remained undocumented throughout her employment.

"This was not a case of cheap labor, this is not a case of (abusing) an illegal immigrant," Arianna Huffington said. "This is a case of a family falling in love with another human being who is still very much a part of our family and our hearts. I did, as a citizen, make a mistake legally. As a mother, I still don't know what I would have done if this came up today."

Arianna Huffington said the woman's job ended in the summer of 1993, several months after her husband was sworn in as a freshman congressman and shortly before he announced his challenge to Feinstein. They said the employee chose to leave because the children moved to Washington when Huffington became a congressman and she wanted to remain in California.

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 disclosure quickly drew national attention. 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.

At about 2 p.m., the campaign alerted the media to a 4 p.m. news conference in Santa Barbara. The stated purpose of the gathering was "to set the record straight," but it also raised some questions:

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