Justice nominee accused of using illegal workers Baird reportedly employed Peruvians

January 14, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Zoe Baird, Bill Clinton's nominee to be attorney general, employed two Peruvians living illegally in the United States as her baby sitter and part-time driver for nearly two years, government and Clinton transition officials said yesterday.

Transition officials said the couple began working for Ms. Baird in the summer of 1990, when she was about to take a job at Aetna Life and Casualty in Hartford, Conn. The husband stopped working for Ms. Baird in March 1992, but the wife continued to help care for her 3-year-old son until the woman left or was dismissed shortly after the election.

The transition officials also said Ms. Baird and her husband had not paid the employees' Social Security taxes as required until they sent in a lump sum this month.

The hiring of the South American couple, an issue that has become a subject of an inquiry by the FBI, is potentially embarrassing for the country's prospective top law enforcement officer, who as attorney general would supervise the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The immigration service, which has unsuccessfully struggled to curtail the tide of illegal workers, is responsible for enforcing a 1986 law that makes it illegal to knowingly hire an illegal alien. Employers, no matter how few people they hire, are required to verify the citizenship status of their workers. Individual homeowners are liable for civil penalties, including fines of up $3,000 for each violation.

In practice, the immigration service almost never prosecutes cases against people who employ illegal aliens in their homes.

Clinton transition officials said yesterday that Ms. Baird believed she was acting legally when she hired the Peruvian couple because she was sponsoring the woman's application for citizenship. But immigration lawyers said applicants for citizenship could not be legally employed until receiving a visa and work permit, which the Peruvians did not have.

Ms. Baird volunteered information about the jobs held by the couple to Mr. Clinton before she was named and to the FBI in her background questionnaire. She has also discussed it with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Utah Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a senior member of the panel, which is scheduled to hold hearings on her nomination on Tuesday and Thursday next week.

"Zoe Baird fully disclosed and explained the situation during the selection process and she will be an excellent attorney general," said Ricki Seidman, a spokesman for the transition office in Little Rock.

Sen. Biden said in a telephone interview yesterday that Ms. Baird volunteered information about the issue on two occasions, first when she met with him on Jan. 5 and again on Tuesday when they met to discuss questions likely to be raised at the hearings.

Mr. Biden said he was satisfied with her explanations, but would withhold a judgment until he received the FBI report.

That is expected to be delivered to the committee later this week. Sen. Biden said he informally alerted several Democratic members of the committee, including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio and Dianne Feinstein of California, to the potential problem.

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