Linda Chavez, Bush’s nominee for the Department of Labor and Christie Whitman, slated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, are implicated in using undocumented immigrants as domestic laborers. Whitman had acknowledged in 1993 that she hired a Portuguese couple who were in the country illegally and failed to pay the requisite Social Security taxes.
In Chavez’s case, the nominee is falling afoul of the very regulations she will be called on to enforce if she is confirmed for the top labor post. Chavez either harbored or hired an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant for two years.
According to Chavez, she housed Marta Mercado as an act of charity and the more than $1,000 a year she gave the immigrant was not compensation for household chores, but simply a handout. Nonetheless, the Department of Labor says that domestic workers— like housekeepers, cooks, and baby sitters— are covered by federal wage laws if they earn at least $1,000 a year or work more than eight hours a week.
Mercado was living with Chavez when President Clinton’s nominees for Attorney General were derailed for employing undocumented immigrants. At the time, Chavez criticized the nominations.
Issues of wages or taxes aside, it is illegal to “harbor” an undocumented immigrant. Although Chavez says she was unaware of Mercado’s legal status, Mercado says she told Chavez she was illegally in the US while living with the nominee.
Almost lost in the debate over Chavez’s relationship with Mercado are Chavez’s qualifications for Labor Secretary as well as the plight of the country’s undocumented workers, forced to work for substandard wages and denied fundamental rights. Today, we focus on those crucial issues.
- Cathi Tactaquin, Director, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
- Ai-Jen Poo, Organizer, Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV)
- Jack Martin, Special Projects Coordinator, Federation for American Immigration Reform; Retired Foreign Service Officer, State Department.