Whitman Hypocrisy Reflects America's Treatment of Latinos

Meg Whitman was "shocked, shocked" to learn that her maid was an illegal alien, hiding in plain sight for nine years

By Gil Villagr?ín, MSW
Published on LatinoLA: November 5, 2010

Whitman Hypocrisy Reflects America's Treatment of Latinos

(Written two weeks before the election that denied Whitman's $150+ million effort to purchase the California governorship.)

The shocking story of Meg Whitman, her brain surgeon husband and their undocumented immigrant maid can be seen as a lesson in the hypocrisy that a couple so blessed with Ivy League educations, careers at the pinnacles of corporate America and Stanford Hospital, members of prestigious country clubs and the Republican Party would hire into their Atherton home a criminal with no right to be in America. But the other side of the story is of Nicandra Diaz Santillan, maid and nanny to the two Whitman sons, now in college. Affectionately called "Nicky" by her employer, who affectionally called her boss--"Meg," who said, "she was almost a member of our family" after nine years of serving the family with tasks not requiring a PhD or MD.

What a shock that billionaires cut corners on maid service by hiring undocumented immigrants! Equal to the shock that 1994 California Republican Congressman and Senate candidate Michael Huffington, a mere multi-millionaire, had an undocumented Mexican nanny for his children. The hiring of illegal immigrants to do work many "legal" Americans refuse to do because of long hours, low pay, dangerous conditions or just low prestige is as old as our Democracy where "all men are created equal," except for women, indentured servants, kidnapped slaves and their offspring for sale, thousands of runaway Indians, and after 1848--Mexicanos run off from their homes at gunpoint by the Texas Rangers--precursors of the Ku Klux Klan.

Our nation does have a serious illegal immigration problem--indeed a tragic one, evidenced by the estimated five thousand men, women and even children who've died grotesque deaths from dehydration, exposure, starvation, snake or scorpion bites, or asphyxiation in truck trailers, as they cross the border from Mexico. Why would anyone risk such a death, leave their family and home, and enter another nation where they are not wanted, cannot speak the language, only to live in fear of deportation and the ignoble experience of arrest, jail, and to be dumped at the border --as in Nicky's words, "like garbage?"

Many Americans state, "I am not against immigrants from any nation, just illegal ones. Why don't these Mexicans wait in line for a visa, then come here to live and work legally and with dignity, like the one million annual legal immigrants?" A fair question. The answer is that relatively educated and wealthy Europeans may have a two year wait for a resident visa to the U.S. while the poor from Mexico and other third world nations may have a ten year wait and are often denied a visa because their education and occupation are not valued as an engineer or physician. Yet it is poor Mexican farmers and factory workers who are most desperate to come to the U.S. for any job at any pay and under any conditions; and who cannot wait for a visa because their family is near starvation today and has been for years since the passage of NAFTA in 1993--a treaty which allows goods and capital to cross the border, but not workers seeking jobs. Highly subsidized U.S. corn floods Mexico--subsidized such that it sells cheaper in Mexico than homegrown corn--throwing millions of farmers out of their livelihood. These desperate farmers have become the undocumented immigrants of a generation. American business loves Mexican's labor, but callously hates Mexican workers.

Candidate Whitman, the can-do former E-Bay CEO, has a solution to ridding the nation of illegal immigrants. Her plan, stated in her campaign website, is "modeled after our war on drugs' drug seizure raids," (bypassing Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is to "institute a system where state and local agencies conduct inspections of workplaces suspected of employing undocumented workers. First-time offenders will be required to pay a fine and have their business license suspended for ten days. Second-time offenders pay higher fines and a 30-day suspension. Third-time offenders will be permanently shut down." Her plan is truly a no-nonsense, tough on crime approach that is sure to put fear into most illegal immigrants and more than a few employers.

So shall we begin workplace raids immediately after Governor Whitman takes office at vineyards and orchards; or nursing homes, hotels, restaurants; or perhaps day care centers or at private homes that hire unlicensed nannies and maids such as the Whitman home?

Such raids could result in thousands of illegal workers, so we must plan and pay for their incarceration, that of their children, and the costs of deportation, which under current law, only the federal government can legally do. But who will replace the deported workers? Perhaps the 12 million strong army of unemployed citizens and legal residents? Try getting an unemployed E-Bay computer whiz to change a disabled seniors' diapers, wash dishes at a four-star restaurant, work at the car wash, or pick crops in a 115 degree toxic sprayed lettuce field. Past workplace raids deported workers who were then replaced by other undocumented workers. Such raids and deportations cause inhumane trauma to the families thrown out "like garbage" for the crime of working to provide for their families. In the words sung by Joan Baez, "There but for fortune go you or I."

About Gil Villagr?ín, MSW:
Gil Villagr?ín is a social work activist and lecturer in the School of Social Work at San Jose State University. He writes on police abuse, immigration, militarism, inequity and the corporatocracy replacing our fragile democracy.
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