Ulman lets go illegal worker

Howard executive says housekeeper `deceived' him

August 14, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Clarification

An article in the Maryland section yesterday failed to make it clear that Linda Chavez, who withdrew as labor secretary nominee in 2001 after reports that she had helped an illegal immigrant, was not accused of employing an illegal worker.

THE SUN REGETS THE ERROR.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he dismissed a 62-year-old woman who cleaned his house for the past year and a half after questions were raised about her citizenship, and she admitted that she was in the country illegally.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Tuesday's Maryland section incorrectly reported an immigration lawyer's description of how someone who entered the country legally but is no longer maintaining lawful status can gain permanent resident status without leaving the United States. Cheryl Geiser, who was commenting generally on immigration law and not on a specific case, said that immediate relatives, who can include non-blood relatives such as stepparents, can help change such a person's status to that of a legal resident. With limited exceptions, such individuals would not be eligible to adjust their status to lawful permanent residents within the United States based on sponsorship by an employer.
The Sun regrets the error.

Ulman said he and his wife, Jaki, unwittingly used the woman's services.

The woman has lived in the United States about 15 years, Ulman said, and "it never occurred to me" that she was not a legal resident.

"I have conflicted feelings," said Ulman, who checked on the woman's status after an inquiry from a reporter. "She is a good person who deceived me. She knew she was illegal, and she didn't tell me."

The Ulmans paid the woman $4,600 in 2006, Ulman said. He said he filed a Form 1099 reporting the income with the Internal Revenue Service this month, before firing her. He said he expects to pay a small fine for not reporting her income earlier.

According to IRS regulations, the maximum penalty for failure to file an income information return for the previous year by Aug. 1 is $50.

"I am upset with myself," Ulman said. "I am an elected official. ... I think about these things. I try to do things the way they are supposed to be done."

Ulman, a lawyer, said his wife was looking for help with housecleaning a month or so after the birth of their second daughter in November 2005, while he was a county councilman.

A friend's mother recommended the woman, who cleaned houses for several other families. She worked at the Ulmans' home nearly every Monday for about six hours, he said, and the Ulmans paid her $110 a day. She brought a vacuum cleaner and other supplies and equipment, Ulman said, and he regarded her as an independent contractor, not an employee.

"Both an immigration lawyer and an accountant believe she's an independent contractor," Ulman said, because she brings her own equipment and supplies. He said since she was not an employee, he was not required to file an IRS form I-9, on which employees are required to state their immigration status and Social Security number.

But "once you do know that they are illegal, you can't employ them," he said he was told.

The Ulmans knew the woman was a longtime resident of Columbia and had a married daughter in the community, the county executive said.

This spring, Ulman attended the daughter's graduation from Howard Community College, and "I gave her [the mother] a big hug."

After an inquiry from a reporter, however, the Ulmans consulted an immigration lawyer, he said, and asked the woman if she is a legal resident. She admitted that she is not, he said.

Efforts to contact the woman for comment were unsuccessful.

According to a family member who spoke on condition of anonymity, the woman entered the country in 1991 on a visa that later expired. She pays taxes and wants to become a legal resident, but has no sponsor. Once her daughter, who is a legal resident, becomes a citizen, she can sponsor her mother.

Cheryl Geiser, an immigration attorney with the firm of Zwaig and Zwaig who does work for FIRN, a private nonprofit immigrant services agency in Columbia, said that without a blood relative who is a citizen, a business sponsor or asylum status as a refugee, there is no way for an illegal immigrant to become legal without leaving the country. Once the daughter gains citizenship, however, she can sponsor her mother's application for legal residency.

Ulman said the woman "said she was embarrassed and ashamed that she is not legal."

Under federal law, an employer must have a newly hired employee fill out an IRS Form I-9. If the employee makes more than $1,500 in a year, the employer also must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

The Ulmans did not do either because Ulman said he regards the cleaning woman as a contractual worker, not an employee.

According to IRS Publication 926, "You have a household employee if you hired someone to do housework and that worker is your employee. The worker is your employee if you can control not only what work is done, but how it is done." It also says "a self-employed worker usually provides his or her own tools and offers services to the general public in an independent business." A lawn service could be an example.

Lynn Lee, an immigration attorney in the Columbia firm of Naima Said and Sass, said the woman who did work for the Ulmans would be considered a family employee "if she was working exclusively for him, or was a live-in nanny." Because she cleans several homes each week and brings her own tools, she is an independent contractor, Lee said.

A number of public figures have had problems with employment of illegal immigrants. Linda Chavez withdrew as President Bush's first nominee to be labor secretary in early 2001 after news reports that from 1991 to 1993 she housed and occasionally gave money to an illegal Guatemalan immigrant woman who also did housework for her.

Earlier, Zoe E. Baird, former President Bill Clinton's nominee for attorney general in 1993, was disqualified after admitting she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Early in 1993, then-Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown disclosed on television that he had failed to pay Social Security taxes for a part-time domestic worker for four years.

"I am annoyed at myself for making a mistake and not filing the 1099," Ulman said. "Since she wasn't an employee, I knew I didn't have to withhold taxes."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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