10/05/2010 01:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Christian Reframing of Meg Whitman's Immigration Hypocrisy

Perhaps you've heard by now: the Republican candidate who hopes to be the next governor of California (my fair state) employed an undocumented housekeeper for nine years. This is the same candidate, Meg Whitman, whose official campaign website contains the following policy statement about employers who hire undocumented migrants:

Modeled after drug seizure raids, Meg will institute a system where state and local law enforcement agencies conduct inspections of workplaces suspected of employing undocumented workers. First-time offenders will be required to pay a fine and have their business license suspended for 10 days. Second-time offenders will pay an additional fine and have their business license suspended for 30 days. Third-time offenders will have their business license permanently suspended and pay a substantial fine and other penalties.

The now-fired housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, claims that the former eBay CEO and would-be governor knew that she was undocumented and only dismissed her (using the words "I cannot help you...from now on you don't know me and I don't know you. You have never seen me and I have never seen you. Do you understand?") upon formally entering the Republican primary.

For her part, Meg Whitman claims that she was unaware of her employee's status until last year, when Ms. Diaz Santillan went to Ms. Whitman and her husband seeking help with her legal status. Ms. Diaz Santillan's camp has produced a copy of a letter sent from the Social Security Administration to Meg Whitman and her husband, Griffith Harsh, notifying them of a discrepancy between the social security number provided by the housekeeper and the records on file in the government.

Ms. Diaz Santillan is suing Meg Whitman for wages Whitman and her husband allegedly failed to pay, and while that may be a genuine concern for the former housekeeper of the perhaps-future governor, it's clear that Nicky Diaz Santillan has been surrounded by and is receiving legal aid from those who want to make political hay.

Ms. Diaz Santillan's attorney is celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, whose written statements on this case read like political attack ads. Allred's left-leaning political proclivities are well-documented as are her ties to Whitman's Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown. The fact that this matter has come to light just a few days before absentee ballots are to be sent out comes as no surprise.

This is the kind of thing that happens in politics: sweet irony (or damnable inconvenience if you happen to like the candidate) in which an arrogant, out-of-touch, "rules-don't-apply-to-me" politician is hoisted with her own petard, roasted on her own mesquite -- you can choose the metaphor. Her former housekeeper has exposed Meg Whitman as a hypocrite, and Ms. Whitman is paying a steep political price for it.

Now, I'm one of those Californians who would consider it a great privilege not to have Meg Whitman as my governor, and, though it has been tempting to join in the fun sport of trashing the Whitman campaign, I hesitate to do a celebratory booty dance over this serious political gaffe.

For one thing, I've read the letter that Whitman and her husband received from the Social Security Administration (and so can you; it's available in PDF form on Gloria Allred's website). The letter does not suggest that Nicky Diaz Santillan was in the country illegally, only that her social security number didn't match her name. Whitman and her husband lied about the letter, which is another issue, but the letter isn't the smoking gun so many folks in California politics seem to believe it is.

More than that, I cannot get too worked up about Meg Whitman's recently exposed immigration double standard because I already knew she had a credibility problem in this area. Anyone who wants to use state and local law enforcement agents to crack down on illegal immigration (by the way, to date, federal courts have found such policies to be unconstitutional) but continues, without complaint, to eat food produced in California (or, indeed just about anywhere else in the United States) has some explaining to do, because to buy food in America is to participate in an agricultural economy that is almost entirely dependent upon cheap, undocumented migrant labor from Mexico and Central America. Same goes for those who insist that they are opposed to illegal immigration yet eat from clean plates at restaurants or sleep in fresh sheets when they stay in hotels. Few of us may directly employ migrants without papers, but all of us enjoy the fruit of their labor.

As a Christian and as a reader of the Gospels, I'm well aware that Jesus often called out the hypocrisy of those listening to his words, and every one of us should join in the Christ-like fight against hypocrisy, but in this struggle we would do best not to be distracted by the indiscretions of a couple of billionaires in a swank Bay Area suburb. Rather, as is usually prudent, we should begin by looking in the mirror.