Au revoir, au pair


We admit to mixed emotions over the stiff sentence handed down to Janie Renee Cochran, the Bowie woman convicted earlier this year of supplying Washington-area families with illegal nannies.

On the one hand, Cochran's defense that she was driven to flout immigration laws by the "high" induced from taking the anti-depressant drug Prozac is a pathetic attempt to evade responsibility. On the other, one wonders at the wisdom of putting a mother of three young children in jail for the crime of trying to help other working mothers find affordable child care.

A federal judge has sentenced Cochran to 18 months in prison for her conviction on one count of violating the immigration laws and defrauding families who paid her to help them find young women to work as au pairs. Prosecutors charged Cochran with recruiting between 22 and 50 illegal nannies during a year-long period between 1992 and 1993, most of them from Northern Ireland.

Although the law makes provision for au pairs, or nannies -- usually young women from Europe between the ages of 18 and 26 -- to live in this country for up to a year in the homes of families with children, Cochran claimed her nannies could work legally for 12 months when in fact they only had three-month tourist visas that permitted them to vacation, but not work.

When the young women whom Cochran recruited were deported after working only a few months, it was au revoir, au pair. Families who had paid Cochran up to $3,100 to find them a nanny found that they had lost both their money and their child care.

The Washington suburbs have the highest percentage of two-income households in the nation and a preoccupation with quality child care. Families Cochran defrauded claimed the abrupt departure of their nannies traumatized their children and disrupted their schedules.

Cochran insisted the illegal nannies were the result of an oversight. Over the last decade she has provided more than 800 baby sitters, nannies and au pairs for Washington-area families, most of them legally.

We support vigilance in enforcement of the immigration laws. But the danger of this country being overrun by nannies from Northern Ireland is low on our list of potential threats. It seems ironic that Cochran's husband and three children, who were present at her sentencing, now must find alternate child care while she serves her term.

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