Since 1950, Americans with household help have been required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for workers earning more than $50 in a calendar quarter (plus unemployment insurance for workers earning $1,000). For many years, compliance was difficult and time consuming and, for the IRS, enforcement was a low priority. In 1986, new immigration laws
made it illegal to hire undocumented immigrants, even in private homes. Both laws were widely disregarded.
Public awareness of and compliance with these legal requirements increased dramatically in 1993 when yet to be inaugurated President Clinton nominated a woman named Zoe Baird to be attorney general (she would have been the first woman to ever hold the office). Like many working women, the nominee had a foreign-born babysitter. Her nanny's husband drove her children to school, sports and other activities. Unfortunately, Baird paid the couple off the books and ignored their undocumented immigration status.
So obscure was the tax regulation and so common the hiring violation that neither the Clinton transition team nor the Senate Judiciary Committee that would confirm her (and where I was a staff member at the time) had asked in the vetting process whether the nominee had complied with either requirement. The result was the first political defeat of Clinton's day-old administration
and a blow for working mothers and their children's caregivers all over America.
After that, the Social Security Domestic Employment Reform Act of 1994 (nicknamed the Nanny Tax) codified rules on reporting wages and taxes for domestic workers, and law-abiding citizens throughout America learned to report and pay FICA, Medicare, FUTA and federal withholding taxes for their babysitters, gardeners and cleaning help.
While candidates and appointees (and presumably average citizens) continued to get caught violating immigration and tax laws
, most people with political aspirations learned to toe the line. It was in this environment six years later that Nicandra Diaz Santillan, also in the United States without documentation, provided her prospective employers, GOP candidate for California Governor Meg Whitman (then CEO of eBay), and her neurosurgeon husband, Griffith Harsh, with a Social Security number not actually assigned to her
. Miss Diaz, who had come into California from Mexico, assured the couple she was legally available to work. (They were introduced though an agency
that had also asked for and received documents she would need to complete the I-9 form.)
The new employers withheld taxes from Diaz' salary ($17,940 in 2002) and provided an annual W2 form to their employee. When the name Nicandra Santillan and the number she provided did not agree with agency records, the Social Security Administration wrote Whitman and Harsh in 2003 asking for more information. The couple gave their housekeeper the letter and asked her to clarify and resolve the matter ("Nicky, please check this. Thanks
Apparently, after that handoff, she kept the letter and it fell off their radar and was forgotten
. The matter faded away until, as Whitman stated last mont
h, "Nicky came to us in June 2009 and confessed that she was an illegal worker."
She asked her employers for "help" legalizing her status several months after Whitman began exploring her interest
in the top state job. Meg Whitman and her husband by all indications behaved legally but were nevertheless misled. As most people would, they trusted the person who they paid to clean their toilet.
When the housekeeper confessed she'd been lying, Whitman "immediately terminated Nicky's employment
." Saying "it was one of the hardest things I've ever done," Whitman added she "considered Nicky a friend and a part of our extended family."
In their 2nd public debate Saturday, Whitman accused her opponent
for the governor's office, California attorney general Jerry Brown, of orchestrating the scandal. Momentum for the accusations and suspiciously timed revelations seem to be the spotlight-seeking work of Diaz' lawyer, Gloria Allred
. (Allred is known for inserting herself into high-profile disputes
.) Whatever her motivation for the explosive betrayal, Diaz' own actions now put her at risk for arrest and deportation.
There are 3 million undocumented workers in California
. Most of them toil in labor-intensive professions with few opportunities for advancement. Rarer still, are opportunities to turn so spectacularly on your employers the way Diaz found to do (or Allred found for her).
Perhaps she misunderstood the promise of America for so many immigrants and believed she had come to the land of opportunism?