It sounds like the plot of a telenovela.
Powerful conservative businesswoman running for political office.
Poor immigrant maid has a secret.
And she used to work for the businesswoman.
There's a crusading lawyer too.
Well this isn't the latest plot line from a Telemundo soap opera.
It's the real-life political drama playing out in the California governor's race. It's no Hollywood fiction.
Meg Whitman is the wannabe Republican governor.
Nicky Diaz Santillan was Whitman's housekeeper for nine years until she was fired in June 2009.
Gloria Allred is the lawyer representing the housekeeper.
Let's also not forget liberal Democrat Jerry Brown who's running against Whitman.
And the housekeeper controversy became an explosive issue in their Saturday debate that was broadcast on the Spanish-language television network Univision.
This could sink Whitman who really needs to win the Latino vote in
California. Latinos make up a third of the state population and around
20 percent of the voting population.
I think Brown was right in his attack on Whitman in the debate.
"Don't run for governor if you can't stand up on your own two feet and say, 'Hey I made a mistake,'" Brown, the California attorney general, said. "You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions. But you don't take accountability."
The question seems to focus on if Whitman knew Diaz was undocumented.
Whitman said she didn't know until Diaz confessed to her and asked for help getting her papers last year. Instead of helping her, the former eBay executive fired her.
Now Whitman is a billionaire, who has spent $119 million of her own money on the governor's race. She's powerful and resourceful and might have found a way to sponsor her employee.
But she turned her back on someone she once considered practically part of the family.
That doesn't sound like compassionate conservatism to me.
Also, Allred produced a 2003 Social Security letter sent to Whitman and her husband stating that Diaz's Social Security number didn't match up with the SSA's records. That is usually a sign that an employee is using a fake or someone else's number.
Whitman denied seeing the letter, according to the LA Weekly, but later on her husband said it's possible he saw the letter.
Did they know or didn't they?
The truth is they didn't want to know. Like some Americans, they don't want to face the fact that we all benefit from undocumented labor in this country.
Some of us do indirectly by eating food picked by undocumented workers or in a restaurant where the food was prepared or the dishes washed by the undocumented.
Employers are supposed to ask employees for an I-9, and the employment agency that referred Diaz to the Whitman's said she gave them the proper paperwork. But it's easy to get a fake Social Security and green card. In Chicago, you just go down to 26th Street.
But anybody who uses workmen or housekeepers around as "casual domestic work in a private home on a sporadic, irregular or intermittent basis," are not required to ask for I-9s, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The problem is the system is set up so that we can all play ignorant. We don't need to check or we're not responsible if the employee uses fake documents.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was correct when he said recently that undocumented immigrants do essential work in the United States.
"They're all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I'm sure you've seen them at your house. We've got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status," Powell recently said on Meet the Press.
Powell wasn't clear on whether he's hired undocumented immigrants directly or they showed up with contractors. Does it matter?
He said what we all know. We all benefit from their labor and we should stop pretending like we don't. And we need to do what's right by supporting comprehensive immigration reform so that people who have worked hard and contributed to this country can as Powell said come "out of the darkness."
When the housekeeper controversy broke a few days ago, Whitman should have made a similar type of admission and then argued for legalization of long-time immigrants like her former employee, Diaz.
Now that would be a Cinderella ending to this telenovela.
By not helping her housekeeper, Whitman looks like a heartless, rich person who benefitted from the hard work of a Latina immigrant. It could just end up costing her the election in California.