Newspaper reports Gov. Holden had illegal alien on staff

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- An illegal alien from Costa Rica worked for a year and a half in Gov. Bob Holden's Capitol office before being fired this week, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Marvin Gonzalez was sacked as a $20,196-a-year messenger after his immigration lawyer confirmed his illegal status and the Columbia Daily Tribune asked the governor's office on Monday about his taxpayer-funded employment.

Gonzalez had been in the United States illegally since 1992, when his immigration authorization paperwork expired, D.K. Hirner, Holden's deputy chief of staff, told the Tribune.

There was no answer to calls Monday and Tuesday to the Jefferson City home of Gonzalez.

Hirner said the governor's office recently received an anonymous call raising questions about the immigration status of Gonzelez.

She told the Tribune that Gonzalez had presented the same materials required for employment of all state staffers at the time of his 2001 hiring -- a Social Security card and a driver's license.

Additionally, members of the governor's staff and Cabinet are subject to background checks by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, although it was unclear Tuesday whether the investigations were applied to messengers. The Highway Patrol did not immediately return a call from The AP seeking comment.

English was 'not good'

A Holden spokeswoman said Tuesday that after the recent anonymous call, Hirner took the additional step of confirming the Social Security number for Gonzalez was valid.

But Hirner said Gonzalez was subsequently contacted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She said Gonzalez was "not good" at speaking English, so Hirner called the INS for an explanation. Hirner also said she helped Gonzalez find an immigration attorney.

Amid the questions about his status, Hirner said she placed Gonzalez on unpaid leave June 10.

Mike Jaromin, deputy director of the Kansas City district of the INS, told the Tribune that a prospective employer doesn't have to ask for proof of immigration status beyond a driver's license and Social Security card.

Disclosures about hiring illegal aliens can be politically embarassing. For example, in 1992, Zoe Baird was President Clinton's choice for attorney general until it was disclosed that she had broken the law by hiring an illegal alien from Peru as a nanny and by failing to pay taxes for her. Clinton withdrew the nomination.

Paid taxes, repaid loan

Hirner said Gonzalez had paid taxes in Missouri and even received and repaid a Small Business Administration loan.

She called Gonzalez "one of the hardest working employees we have."

The Tribune also reported that Hirner and another top Holden aide, apparently unaware of the immigration status of Gonzalez, contacted the Missouri Department of Revenue about getting the man's daughter a driver's license.

The newspaper said Hirner initially said she had no knowledge of any contacts between the governor's office and the Department of Revenue about the daughter's driver's license.

Subsequently, Hirner acknowledged escorting the girl to a state license office in Jefferson City, only to learn that she could not obtain a license because her birth certificate was written in Spanish.

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