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Workers a thorny issue for Romney

THE NATION

The Massachusetts governor's lawn crew included illegal immigrants, a newspaper reports.

December 02, 2006|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 GOP presidential aspirant and an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, apparently employed undocumented landscape workers at his home near Boston.

Responding to a report in Friday's Boston Globe, the governor's communications director said Friday that Romney was unaware that several of the landscapers who kept up his suburban Belmont property were in this country illegally.

"Gov. Romney has no information or knowledge to corroborate the Globe's allegations," Eric Fehrnstrom said Friday. "He hired a legitimate lawn service company and he knows the owner as a decent, hardworking person who is a legal resident."

As he explores a run for the presidency in 2008, Romney has made illegal immigration a priority issue, urging stiff penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.

The governor has endorsed construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S. border with Mexico and has advocated that National Guard troops be stationed along the border until the fence is finished. After Romney declared his support for the fence on a Fox television show in September, host Bill O'Reilly christened the barrier "the Mitt Romney Memorial Wall."

After receiving a tip that illegal workers were tending the governor's 2 1/2-acre property, the Globe sent a team of reporters to Guatemala to interview four current and former employees of Community Lawn Service With a Heart. The small company, based in Chelsea, Mass., had maintained Romney's grounds for a decade. The company is owned by Ricardo Saenz, a legal immigrant from Colombia.

Only one of the landscapers interviewed by the Globe said he had proper documentation to work in the United States. Another told Globe reporters that he had paid smugglers about $5,000 to take him across the U.S-Mexican border.

The Guatemalan laborers told the Globe that the governor sometimes greeted them by saying \o7buenos dias\f7.

The same landscaping service also maintained the nearby property of the governor's son Taggart, the Globe reported.

In California's 1994 U.S. Senate election, GOP Rep. Michael Huffington was defeated after admitting that an illegal immigrant had worked as his children's nanny for five years.

elizabeth.mehren@latimes.com

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