SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 23, 2010

Fed official convicted in immigration investigation

Homeland Security administrator encouraged cleaning woman to stay in US

(Continued)

"You have to put in paperwork and file, but ... you have to be careful 'cause they will deport you. Be careful," Henderson warned. She told Bitencourt, "Wow, wow, if you leave, they won't let you back ... you can't leave, don't leave ... 'cause once you leave you will never be back."

But Henderson and her lawyer said she only intended to seek out information for Bitencourt and, once she learned that Bitencourt had no chance of remaining here, intended to fire her.

Henderson also insisted to the jury of 12 women and three men that despite her high-level position, she was ignorant of basic immigration laws. At one point, she insisted she'd told Ehrlich that Bitencourt couldn't be illegal because she had an American-born child, something she acknowledged on the stand was not accurate. (Prosecutor Diane Freniere also pointed out in cross-examination that Bitencourt's child wasn't born until 2008).

Henderson told jurors Friday that her own lack of knowledge about immigration law was "kind of scary."

But even after Henderson consulted with a co-worker who had been a longtime employee of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and learned that there was no legal way for Bitencourt to remain in the country, she continued paying Bitencourt to clean her condo for another month.

Henderson said she intended to fire Bitencourt but never got the chance and assumed that she'd simply quit, "spooked" after realizing Henderson's government position.

Both Henderson and the colleague she consulted about the issue, Cindy Sutton, testified that they did not believe they had the legal authority to ask Bitencourt — or anyone else — their legal status in the country.

Henderson said she thought it would be discriminatory, and potentially an abuse of her authority, to do so.

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