News Analysis: Geithner’s Problems Refocus Attention on Undocumented Gardeners and Housekeepers

Aswini Anburajan, FI2W contributor

Aswini Anburajan, FI2W contributor

Democrats and Republicans alike appear to have little stomach to derail the nomination of Tim Geithner, President-elect Obama’s pick for Secretary of Treasury, despite his failure to pay $43,000 in taxes on time, and his hiring of a housekeeper who briefly lacked proper work papers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed Geithner’s troubles this week as “a few little hiccups” in the nomination process.

Does political dismissal of Geithner’s troubles reflect a change in attitudes toward issues like the hiring of undocumented workers?

Little attention has been given to Geithner’s hiring of the worker, whose legal papers expired while she was employed him. Instead pundits and papers have focused on the irony that the man who will lead the Internal Revenue Service can’t figure out how much he owes in taxes.

Getty Images/Wall Street Journal)

Geithner (Getty Images/Wall Street Journal)

Geithner’s hiring of a housekeeper whose work papers expired should be noted, not as a criticism, but as a reality that the 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country are interwoven in the American workforce.

Geithner isn’t the first public official in this situation. In the presidential primaries, as Republican Mitt Romney campaigned around the country promising to crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the Boston Globe revealed that undocumented workers had been part of the landscaping firm hired by the Romneys.

Two of President Bill Clinton’s nominees for attorney general, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, were both disqualified for hiring nannies that were undocumented and for not paying social security taxes on their wages.

Linda Chavez, who was President Bush’s first nominee for labor secretary, withdrew her name from consideration after it was revealed that she had taken in an undocumented Guatemalan woman and given her money.

Chavez’s withdrawal came after Republican prodding, but she fired back publicly saying that the criticism was part of “search and destroy” politics in Washington.

Conservative or liberal, it seems that when it comes to immigration, there’s an equal degree of political culpability. Undocumented workers are part of the American economy: they are hired sometimes knowingly, sometimes not, by individuals at the highest levels of government. The question now is what are the steps that can be taken to remedy the situation?

Scuttling political nominations isn’t the answer. Nor is rounding up millions of undocumented workers and sending them home.

Or to quote Romney at a CNN/YouTube debate on the issue of immigration, “I think it’s really kind of offensive, actually, to suggest… if you hear someone with a funny accent, you as a homeowner are supposed to go out there and say, I want to see your papers?… I don’t think that’s America, number one.”

Geithner is getting a pass on the issue because of the state of the economy, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the issue of undocumented workers in our economy isn’t a priority and worthy of discussion.

Few of us, it appears, are untouched by the issue.