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Democrats accuse Blunt of improperly hiring Nicaraguan immigrant 20 years ago

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2010 - The Missouri Democratic Party released documents Tuesday that it says show that Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Blunt attempted to use his post 20 years ago as Missouri secretary of state to aid a woman from Nicaragua who was seeking asylum in the United States.

In an August 1990 letter on official state letterhead, Blunt wrote that the woman "has done some work for Roseann," his wife at the time. The letter was addressed to Gene McNary, then the head of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. McNary, a fellow Republican, previously had been St. Louis County executive.

The state Democratic Party also released 1989 documents from the INS pertaining to the woman, Dora Narvaez, that are stamped "employment not authorized."

Corey Platt, speaking for the state Democratic Party, contended during a news conference in Clayton that the documents show Blunt "used government resources to reach out to Gene McNary'' and that he or his family had employed an illegal immigrant.

Platt asserted that the incident showed Blunt's practice of "using his office" to help friends and relatives. Blunt has been a congressman for 14 years from southwest Missouri.

Platt acknowledged that the accusation also is aimed at refuting Blunt's latest ad, which focuses on immigration and asserts that Blunt is tough on illegal immigrants and that Democratic rival Robin Carnahan is not. Platt contended that the incident with Narvaez shows that Blunt is a hypocrite on the issue.

Blunt campaign communications chief Rich Chrismer replied, "Robin Carnahan has made some wild false assertions in this campaign, but this one is just plain crazy."

Attached to Blunt's letter to McNary was a lengthy July 1990 letter from Narvaez to Roseann Blunt, in which the woman lays out her immigration problems and her request for asylum. In the letter, Narvaez makes no mention in the letter of working for the family, but asks for help "in obtaining legal counsel to work out my many problems."

Blunt explained in the letter that he was writing McNary because "I decided that if the guy you know best at Immigration and Naturalization happens to be the person in charge, then it's all right to direct your correspondence to him."

The papers released by the Democrats indicate that Narvaez was in the U.S. legally, while her case was being considered, but she was not allowed to work.

McNary wrote back to Blunt in September 1990, saying that the tens of thousands of applications for asylum were being considered "in chronological order of receipt to assure fairness to all applicants." Once his office receives the appropriate information, McNary wrote, the case will be assigned to the INS' regional office in Kansas City.

The Kansas City Star reports that it got ahold of Narvaez and that she said she had been the Blunts' housekeeper for about 6 months.

Blunt's campaign says that's not true.

Narvaez, said Chrismer, "never worked for the Blunts. She simply helped out at a couple of church events. Constituents who are having problems with a government agency reach out to Roy Blunt all of the time and he passes this information on to the appropriate officials all of the time. This is desperate, dirty politics from Robin Carnahan's failing campaign."

Narvaez and Roseann Blunt have yet to return calls from the Beacon.

Roseann Blunt and the congressman are divorced, and he has remarried. At the time of the 1990 letter, Roy and Roseann Blunt were raising three children. The eldest was Matt Blunt, who later become Missouri governor from 2005-2009.

What's not in dispute is that the Democratic attacks are aimed at shifting the momentum in the U.S. Senate contest, where Blunt has had a persistent lead over Carnahan in various polls. The most recent polls, however, have shown a tightening in the contest.

The Democratic Party denied that Carnahan had any role in obtaining the documents. Platt said the party had submitted an open-records request some time ago to examine the archival papers of Blunt during his eight years as Missouri secretary of state. Platt said that Democratic campaign workers with the state party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sifted through the boxes of records, and found the letter from Blunt to McNary, along with related documents.

If the accusations are true, the episode would bear some resemblance to the housekeeper controversy swirling around another Republican, California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, who has acknowledged unknowingly employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper. Democrats and the immigrant's lawyer allege that Whitman did know.

UPDATE: McNary said in an interview Wednesday that he didn't recall receiving Blunt's letter. McNary said that his written response, as read to him by the Beacon and other news outlets, appears to be his "standard response."

In any case, McNary said that during his roughly three years in the job, Blunt's request would have been "one of lots of letters we got'' from people seeking help for an immigrant.

Meanwhile, Blunt told the Post-Dispatch editorial board during a conference call -- he skipped a scheduled meeting because of protesters outside the newspaper -- that he could not recall ever meeting Narvaez.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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