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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR

Harman May Have Hired Nanny Illegally

Campaign staff says she thought she was acting appropriately in seeking authorization for Englishwoman hired in '89.

April 24, 1998|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jane Harman may have broken the law by hiring an immigrant nanny in 1989 who had no legal authority to work in the United States.

Harman says she thought at the time that her actions were legal because the immigrant from England was pursuing work authorization, with Harman as her U.S. sponsor.

"By continuing the sponsorship process, she felt that she was proceeding appropriately," said Kam Kuwata, Harman's campaign manager. "In all candor, I don't think she has given it a lot of thought since then."

But federal authorities say Harman violated U.S. immigration laws if she employed the nanny before the application process was complete.

Since 1986, federal law has provided for fines of up to $2,000 for employers of undocumented workers.

Harman, currently a third-term congresswoman from Torrance, volunteered the information about her nanny during a discussion with reporters in 1993.

At the time, Harman was a first-term congresswoman defending Kimba Wood and Zoe Baird--two of President Clinton's choices for U.S. attorney general whose nomination prospects were scuttled over similar accusations about their domestic help.

Harman complained to her hometown newspaper, the Torrance Daily Breeze, that the Wood and Baird episodes posed an unfair "litmus test" for women who are trying to balance careers and family.

Harman said she sympathized with Baird and Wood because she raised four children while pursuing her own career ambitions through jobs in the White House, in a prestigious Washington law firm and in Congress.

Harman said at the time that her actions were "perfectly legal and appropriate."

On Thursday, however, Harman's response was more qualified. Aides no longer insisted that her actions were legal. Instead, they said she believed they were at the time.

Harman aides said the congresswoman employed two nannies who were not U.S. citizens.

In one case during the 1970s, Harman said the nanny came from Ghana.

She said the woman entered the country on a valid visa and Harman believes she was legally employed. At the time, however, federal law did not require employers to check a worker's legal status.

Harman aides said Thursday that the congresswoman cannot recall details of the Ghanaian woman's hiring.

Immigration law changed in 1986. Harman subsequently hired the immigrant nanny from England. On Thursday, Harman aides said her recollection is that the nanny worked in her Washington home from 1989 to 1992--the same year Harman was first elected to Congress from a district in the South Bay.

Harman has four children from two marriages. Aides said the nanny was hired to care for the two youngest children she had with her current husband, Sidney Harman, founder of a major audio electronics company.

When her nanny needed help obtaining work papers, the congresswoman said, Harman hired Washington attorney Lynda Zengerle to assist the woman.

Kuwata said the candidate believes that the woman was in the country legally when she worked in the Harmans' home, even though she did not have proper working papers.

The campaign was unable Thursday to release documents that might support Harman's case. Employers like Harman are required to have an I-9 form that shows federal authorities that they checked a worker's legal status.

In some cases, American employers can petition the U.S. Department of Labor to allow a worker to immigrate to the United States if they can prove that the skills necessary for the job are not available in this country.

While federal authorities say that is a difficult case to prove for a child's nanny, they also say that exception is sometimes granted.

First, the employer is required to advertise the position for at least three days in a U.S. newspaper. He or she must also submit records of interviews of U.S. applicants and reasons for their disqualification.

If the exception is granted by the Department of Labor, the employer must then apply for work authorization papers from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

That process became a political issue in California in 1994 when Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Huffington acknowledged that he employed an illegal immigrant nanny to care for his two children.

Like Harman, Huffington had applied to the Labor Department for a special exemption for the nanny. In that case, the exemption was granted but--after working for the Huffingtons for more than four years--the woman was dismissed from her job before she received certification papers from the INS.

Huffington also admitted that he had not paid Social Security taxes for his nanny. Harman has said that she did pay such taxes.

For Huffington, the nanny issue also generated political charges of hypocrisy because he had endorsed Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure to end most public benefits for illegal immigrants.

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