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Feinstein Employee Had Permit to Work, INS Says : Politics: Agency reports that permit expired during immigrant's employment but no federal laws were broken.

November 05, 1994|PATRICK J. McDONNELL and JAMES RAINEY and RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After several wild days of accusations and retractions in the fiercely contested U.S. Senate race, the Immigration and Naturalization Service confirmed Friday that the woman employed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein as a housekeeper in the early 1980s entered the country with a legal work permit that expired while she was still working for Feinstein.

The INS said no federal laws were broken and in any case the hiring occurred years before a 1986 law made hiring illegal immigrants a crime.

INS records also show that the woman's work visa would have limited her to working at the Guatemalan Consulate and that the permit expired in November, 1980--while she was employed by Feinstein.

The hiring occurred long before federal law made it a crime to hire illegal immigrants. But throughout the day, the Santa Barbara congressman was on the airwaves--in commercials and television interviews--accusing Feinstein of violating an obscure California labor law by hiring the housekeeper.

Republican challenger Mike Huffington has repeatedly attacked Feinstein this past week after admitting that he and his wife had employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny until last year--long after the 1986 law that made such hiring illegal.

The issue continued to frustrate Feinstein's campaign strategy to draw attention to her record of bipartisan support in cities and counties. In press conferences, she maintained that the woman she hired as a housekeeper in 1980 showed her documentation that she was in the United States legally. She appeared with city and county officials in several cities who praised her record as a senator.

The immigration issue was only one of a series of events in the Senate race Friday:

* In another sign of the race's volatility, KNBC-TV released a poll that showed Feinstein with a 16-point lead over Huffington, up 10 points from a poll two weeks ago. The 52-36 margin came only days after another poll, done by a local television station, showed Huffington with a 2-point lead over Feinstein. KNBC attributed its results to Huffington's disclosure about breaking the law by hiring the nanny.

* Entering the last frantic weekend of campaigning, Feinstein traveled to several cities while Huffington concentrated on Los Angeles, with several television appearances. On a local cable television program, he called Feinstein a "hypocrite" and accused the INS of a "cover-up," though he offered no proof.

* The costliest race in congressional history also got more expensive. Campaign disclosure reports showed that Huffington gave another $500,000 to his campaign, raising the total to nearly $28 million, which again breaks national spending records for a congressional race. Feinstein loaned her campaign $70,000, bringing its total close to $11 million.

* The Associated Press asked the Huffington campaign to withdraw a new commercial accusing Feinstein of breaking the law because, the wire service said, it was quoted erroneously in the ad. The Huffington campaign refused the request.

A Los Angeles City Hall rally with President Clinton capped a day of barnstorming by Feinstein, who earlier Friday went to Sacramento and Fresno.

In Sacramento, more than a dozen city and county officials gave so many testimonials about their support for the senator that the chilled crowd on the City Hall steps began to thin out before the event ended. "I know that was a long litany but it is an important litany because this is my campaign . . . these press conferences are replicated up and down the state all week beginning with Mayor Richard Riordan in Los Angeles," Feinstein said.

"Never in the history of this nation has there been a race like this where one person with no record and no performance . . . has spent so much to attack and slander. Never, never, never in the history of this nation," Feinstein said.

Repeating a recent theme of her campaign, Feinstein implored her supporters to turn back Huffington's expensive campaign. "A Senate seat cannot be bought. A Senate seat must be earned. And the way you earn it is by performing," she said.

Feinstein's campaign was shadowed all day by the possibility that she may have misspoken about never having employed an illegal worker. And even if the circumstances differed significantly than those of her opponent, the distinction was sure to be blurred in campaigning.

All day long, Huffington and his campaign accused Feinstein of lying about the former housekeeper's status.

The housekeeper was quoted Friday by Associated Press as insisting she was in the country legally. "Yes, I was legal. I already talked with her (Feinstein) and I am not going to say anything more," she said.

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