Poetic justice has never tasted this sweet. Meg Whitman counted on her investment of millions of dollars in the Spanish media (of the $119 million spent on her campaign so far) to yield high returns in fooling Latino voters to vote for her in the highly contested upcoming gubernatorial election. Yet she did not count on Nicandra Diaz Santillan, an undocumented Latina immigrant and a former Whitman housekeeper, to come out of the closet and expose Whitman’s hypocrisy. Meg Whitman, you have nowhere to hide.
Like 37 million other Californians, I woke up to the news that Whitman had employed Nicandra, an undocumented domestic worker, for nine years and then fired her shortly after deciding to run for governor. As a Latina, I was disgusted to see ad after ad from Whitman on Spanish TV and radio claiming she was a friend to the Latino population. One commercial featured a Latino man explaining that Whitman had provided opportunity for him; therefore, she was a good candidate for Latinos. Yet when I turned to English channels, anti-immigrant hate and anti-Latino sentiment spilled from the same campaign.
Immigration is by far the most divisive, most volatile and most intentionally misrepresented issue driving the gubernatorial elections and our country’s politics today. Immigration is not about protecting the rule of law, as Meg Whitman and others like her claim. Whitman’s rhetoric on immigration only serves to fuel a race and class war in our state. This is a shortsighted, mean-spirited and deceptive strategy that will hurt our state in the long run and put our future at risk. As Californians, we must have the courage to face our state’s greatest challenge head-on and lead our nation in the issue of our time: how to create more equitable economic development that will lift up the poorest in our state.
California is the largest U.S. economy and the eighth largest economy in the world. Immigrants — documented or not — comprise more than one-third of California’s labor force, contributing more than $30 billion in tax revenue annually. Seventy percent of non-citizen immigrants live in mixed-status households; that is, they live with citizens. Our state’s demographics have shifted dramatically over the past few decades, and California is now the first state to be a predominantly people-of-color state. Even in Orange County, which for decades was primarily white, the middle and upper class now are now predominantly working class and Mexican. As the shrinking white population in our state ages, they — like the rest of us — will rely on the taxes paid by working Californians.
While Meg Whitman is clearly leading with a message of immigrant xenophobia, Jerry Brown is not far behind. Like other Democrats now, Brown is lacking the leadership, integrity and courage to speak the truth. Our broken immigration system is a major barrier to our state’s economic well-being. California relies on undocumented immigrant labor, Secure Communities and 287 (g) programs. Workplace raids destabilize communities and have a longterm impact on the wellbeing of our state. We need leaders to move us forward — not followers, full of hate, perpetuating the current broken system.
Ana Pérez is the executive director of Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in San Francisco.