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Undocumented ex-housekeeper fires back at Meg Whitman

October 5, 2010 | 12:40 pm

NickyDiazSantillan The housekeeper at the center of the illegal immigration controversy roiling Meg Whitman’s campaign hit back at the Republican nominee for governor on Tuesday, saying that no one forced her to come forward. She said she did so to shed light on the plight of undocumented workers who live in the “shadows” and are treated poorly.

“Meg Whitman was wrong when she said somebody put a gun to my head. Nobody did. I spoke out because I want people to know who Meg Whitman really is and I am glad that I did. I want to be heard,” said Nicandra Diaz Santillan, Whitman’s former housekeeper, speaking at a news  conference in the office of her attorney Gloria Allred. Allred is filing a claim on her behalf seeking unpaid wages, reimbursement for expenses and other funds.

Whitman’s nine-year employment of Diaz Santillan became a major issue in the governor’s race last week after she alleged that Whitman knew for many years that Diaz Santillan was in the country illegally and only fired her in 2009 because Whitman was running for governor and the housekeeper had become a political liability. Allred produced a 2003 letter from the federal government to Griff Harsh, Whitman’s husband, that stated that Diaz Santillan’s Social Security number did not match her name, and handwriting believed to be Harsh’s is on the letter.

Whitman has said she hired Diaz Santillan through an employment agency, saw what appeared to be legitimate documentation, and fired her once she learned she was illegal in 2009.

Whitman has tried to change the focus in the controversy by arguing that Democratic rival Jerry Brown or his labor allies are behind the emergence of Santillan, and that the woman whom she describes as a member of her “extended family” faces deportation now because of Brown’s political ambitions.

Santillan shot back at her former employer Tuesday.

“I knew the risk of speaking out and I was afraid for my family. Despite my fear, I decided to come out from the shadows, the shadows in which millions of people live every day,” she said. “It's not fair that we work hard and then get thrown away like garbage. We have families to support like you do. We are here. We need you just like you need us. Meg Whitman, don't say I was part of your family because you never treated me like I was."

Diaz Santillan again refused to take questions from the media, and several questions remain about the woman’s emergence.

Allred declined to name the attorney who referred  Diaz Santillan’s case to her office, saying it was a long-time firm policy.

“I am not in any way identifying any individual who refers any cases to us,” she told reporters. “I am not going to play any kind of guessing games. That’s not our policy and it’s not changing now.”

She added: “We have represented employees in employment matters for more than three decades. This is the No. 1 emphasis of our law firm. … It is not a surprise that we would be referred a matter involving employment.”

“All I can tell you is that anyone who knows me knows nobody tells me what to do. My duty is to my client and that will always be my duty,” Allred said.

Allred said the last time she had spoken to Brown was “a year or two” ago while the two were waiting to board a plane in Sacramento, before he had announced his candidacy for governor. “I have no idea who’s on his staff,” she said. “It’s not something of interest to me.”

-- Seema Mehta and Michael Mishak

Photo: Attorney Gloria Allred, right, presented documents on September 30, 2010, that she alleges provide proof that Meg Whitman knew that Nicky Diaz Santillan, seated left, immigration status was illegal when she worked for the gubernatorial candidate. She presented the documentation, from the Social Security Administration, during a press conference at her offices. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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