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Meg Whitman's Housekeeper Controversy

by Pamela Hartman

All of the contradictions and complexities of our nation’s immigration policy are being publicly exposed in the current contretemps between California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and her former housekeeper.

Opponents of immigration – including Whitman - tend to speak about immigration enforcement in shrill, impersonal terms: Take Whitman’s promise to be “tough as nails” on immigration policy. But in Whitman’s case as in others, the rhetoric and the reality are far apart.

Scratch the surface of any immigration controversy and you find the complex lives of people: immigrants who form relationships with their employers, their spouses and children, immigrants who are part of communities, who cannot be expunged from our lives with the wave of the Border Patrol’s wand.

Whitman’s language changed dramatically when she had to address the real toll that her maid’s illegal status had on the lives of those around her. Gone was the tough talk about ridding California of illegal immigrants. Now the issue was human.

“I was not going to make an example of Nicky,” Whitman said in explaining her reluctance to hasten the deportation of her former housekeeper by calling the authorities. The housekeeper, she said, was part of her “extended family.”

That is where the true difficulty in enforcing immigration policy lies: how do you separate families and communities in an effort to cleanse the country of illegal immigrants? In my opinion, the answer is you can’t.

Immigration opponents are already calling Whitman a hypocrite. I agree that she is hypocritical for supporting a crackdown on illegal immigrant employers while trying to hide her own, perhaps inadvertent, employment of one. But to me the actions of her and her husband in trying to protect her housekeeper from deportation are not hypocritical. They are human.

It is easy to be anti-immigrant in the abstract. It is much harder when that immigrant is your friend, your spouse, when it is the gardener, the butcher, the housekeeper, the caregiver that you rely on. This imbroglio reveals the messiness of human relations that is at the heart of any discussion of immigration.

About The Author

Pamela Hartman is past chair of the LA County Bar Asooc. Immigration Section and Pamela Hartman practices exclusively in the area of immigration law. Since graduating from UCLA Law School in 2003, she has earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for immigrants. She has filed successful petitions for many immigrants of extraordinary ability, including musicians, jugglers, makeup artists and scientists. Ms. Hartman has helped dozens of Iraqi immigrants gain asylum in the United States since the outbreak of the war in 2003, and has written several articles on the topic. She has extensive experience in family and employment visas, and in filing motions to reopen and litigating immigration issues in federal court

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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