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Feinstein Worker Entered U.S. Legally, but Visa Lapsed : Politics: INS records indicate no violation of federal law. Huffington continues to make the hiring an issue.

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 working for Feinstein.

The INS records suggested no violation of federal law by Feinstein, but show that the housekeeper apparently remained in the country illegally while working for Feinstein. The records also show that the woman's work visa limited her to working at the Guatemalan Consulate.

The records appeared to buttress claims by Feinstein that she did not hire an illegal immigrant and that the woman had some documentation--a visa--at the time of her employment. If the woman had presented that documentation to an employer, it would have been virtually impossible for anyone but an immigration expert to recognize the restrictions, an INS official said Friday.

Meanwhile, Republican challenger Mike Huffington left no doubt he would use the fact that the woman's work permit expired in November, 1980--and that she was technically eligible to work only at the consulate--to continue to attack Feinstein.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 6, 1994 Valley Edition Part A Page 3 Column 2 Zones Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Campaign funds--A caption that appeared in Saturday's edition misstated the amount of money Mike Huffington has recently given to his own Senate campaign. The amount is $500,000.

Huffington had been on the defensive for more than a week after it was revealed that he and his wife had employed an illegal immigrant nanny until last year, apparently violating immigration and tax laws. Even though the circumstances of Feinstein's hiring in the early 1980s differed significantly from those of Huffington, the distinction was likely to be blurred in the final days of the bitter campaign that is the most expensive ever waged for a congressional seat.

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 recent disclosure about employing an illegal immigrant for more than four years.

* 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.

* Campaign disclosure reports showed that Huffington gave another $500,000 to his campaign, raising the total to nearly $28 million, which sets a national spending record 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 attacking Feinstein because, the wire service said, it was quoted erroneously in the ad. The Huffington campaign refused the request.

The illegal immigrant accusations frustrated Feinstein's effort to draw attention to her record of bipartisan support in cities and counties. In news conferences in Fresno and Sacramento, she maintained that the woman she hired as a housekeeper in 1980 presented documentation showing that she was in the United States legally. Late in the day, her campaign also released W-2 statements showing that Feinstein paid taxes and Social Security for the housekeeper.

Campaigning in Sacramento, 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."

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 ended her day of campaigning with a rally at Los Angeles City Hall with President Clinton.

Even before the INS disclosure Friday it was clear that Feinstein's hiring occurred long before the 1986 federal law that made it a crime to hire illegal immigrants. But throughout the day, Huffington accused Feinstein of lying about her former housekeeper's status and violating an obscure California labor law by hiring the housekeeper.

The housekeeper was quoted by Associated Press on Friday 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.

At the San Francisco house where the woman now works as a housekeeper, her husband told The Times that she had entered the country legally and was permitted to work at the time she was employed by Feinstein. Miguel Realegeno disputed Huffington's ads saying that his wife was an illegal worker.

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