Texas state senator Dan Patrick, a candidate for lieutenant governor known for his tough stance on immigration, is defending himself against allegations that he knowingly employed undocumented immigrants decades ago.

In a story first reported by the Dallas Morning News and Houston’s KTRK/Channel 13, a former employee, Miguel “Mike” Andrade, said that back in the 1980s he informed Patrick that he was in the country illegally,.

Andrade also told reporters that Patrick employed several other undocumented workers in a sports bar he owned.

Patrick, a Republican, issued a statement saying that Andrade never told him about his immigration status.

Border security and illegal immigration are the top issues among Republican primary voters in the state, according to internal polling by the campaigns, and no two candidates in the lieutenant governor’s race draw a stronger contrast than Patrick and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Patrick has introduced bills in the Texas legislature requiring local police and sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law, a measure opposed by many major city police chiefs. Patrick has called undocumented immigrants an “illegal invasion” and accused them of being terrorists who carry tropical diseases into the country.

Patterson, on the other hand, has sought an expanded guest worker program to meet the state’s need for inexpensive labor. Patterson acknowledged having hired a private investigator who contacted Andrade and then provided the information to the news organizations. He said he wanted to demonstrate Patrick’s hypocrisy.

“Texas deserves a straight shooter in the office of lieutenant governor. Time and again, Dan Patrick has proven his unwillingness or inability to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about himself and about others,” Patterson said in a statement.

Allen Blakemore, a campaign consultant to Patrick, said the state senator did not know of anyone working for him without authorization.

Andrade claims that he provided false Social Security and green cards when he was hired by the managers of Nick’s Sports Market in Houston, one of five sports bars Patrick co-owned. Patrick said he remembered Andrade as “affable young man and seemed to be a good and conscientious worker.”

“I can assure you that every employee completed a W-4 prior to becoming employed,” Patrick said in a statement. “I know this because my mother was our bookkeeper, and she was, and still is, a stickler for the rules. Everyone was hired and paid in accordance with regularly accepted business practices of the time.”

There was no central federal database to check a person’s immigration status in the 1980s and employers relied on the apparent authenticity of documents supplied by the job applicant. However, many food service and construction businesses relied heavily on immigrant labor at the time and employers didn’t face penalties until a federal law passed in 1986.

Andrade said Patrick wrote him a reference letter when he applied for citizenship under the 1986 law, which included an amnesty provision, and he became a citizen in 1992. Patrick said he does not recall writing a letter on Andrade's behalf, but he has been a vocal opponent of immigration proposals that provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million people now in the U.S. illegally.

Patrick’s rhetoric has upset Andrade, who said it doesn’t reflect the man who employed him.

“He’s changed,” Andrade told the Morning News. “He is trying to make a division, to look at us like something that is not good for this country, something negative for this country.”

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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