The Debate over Immigration Reform in this country has hit home for Republican Candidate Meg Whitman.
Whitman, the former CEO of E-Bay who is in the midst of a tight race for Governor of California against Democrat Jerry Brown, denied allegations that she knew for years her housekeeper was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. The allegations say she ignored warnings from the government that her employee might have a questionable legal status in the U.S.
In California Hispanics make up 37% of the population, according to the US Census, second only to New Mexico, making the Hispanic vote crucial and a potential game changer for either candidate.
Whitman has courted Hispanic voters with Spanish language radio and TV ads, a website, billboards-and even Spanish language posters at bus stops. But for a candidate who has called for tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, the allegations, if proven, could undercut her credibility just weeks before election-day, particularly with Hispanics she has pursued for months.
In an interview Wednesday on Fox Business Network, Whitman called the accusation that she knew Diaz Santillan was an illegal immigrant "a lie."
Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney who represents Whitman's former maid, Nicky Diaz Santillan, said she would release evidence Thursday showing Whitman was aware of the maid's illegal status as far back as 2003, a claim Whitman denies.
Throughout her employment "Nicky was undocumented and ... Whitman was aware of her status," Allred said Wednesday.
Specifically, the GOP Candidate disputes that she received a 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration that said the Social Security number provided by the housekeeper did not match the name on file.
Such letters can be a tip-off about possible immigration problems, although the agency stopped sending them to employers in 2007.
The housekeeper said she was told to "check on this," then never heard about the letter again. Allred said Whitman continued to receive letters about the mismatched Social Security number, which Diaz Santillan found in the trash.
Whitman called the allegations a political stunt. "We never received that letter or that notification," she said after a campaign event in San Jose, Calif.
Whitman said she was not aware the housekeeper was in the U.S. illegally until the woman volunteered the information in 2009, after which Whitman fired her. In all, the woman worked for the family for nine years, making $23 an hour.
Her campaign released employment applications filled out when the housekeeper was hired in 2000, including a copy of a Social Security card and a California driver's license, that indicated the woman was a legal resident.
There are questions about the timing behind the allegations, the lack of documentation to support the claims and Allreds Democratic ties have some questioning her motivation in the middle of a tight political race.
According to the Associated Press, Allred once gave money to Whitman’s opponent, Democrat Jerry Brown, and was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
When asked about timing and her political links at a news conference, Allred said the former housekeeper "just recently contacted me." She noted her donation to Brown in his race for attorney general was $150, although she has given to other Democrats, including President Barack Obama and California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The allegations come ahead of a scheduled Saturday Spanish-language debate that will include questions of importance to the Hispanic community.
Allred also said Diaz Santillan was mistreated, and said she will file a claim against Whitman for back pay and mileage. She provided no proof to document those allegations.
Jerry Brown's spokesman, Sterling Clifford, said in a statement that Whitman apparently thinks the rules don't apply to her.
"After more than a year of Whitman demanding immigration policy that 'holds employers accountable,' we learn that accountability doesn't extend to her own actions," he said.
Clifford said the Browns use a well-known national housekeeping service that comes twice a month to their home in the Oakland Hills. He said Brown has never knowingly employed an illegal immigrant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.