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The Trump Organization Hired Undocumented Workers, Exploited Them, then Fired Them. Here’s A Recap of What Happened.

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‘There are millions of us here without papers, and the country depends on us. [Donald Trump] knows that because his businesses depend on us and he knows how hard I worked.” – Victorina Morales, who worked Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey for five years while she was undocumented. Support Victorina and other undocumented workers here.

From the moment he descended the stairs at the Trump Hotel in New York, Donald Trump has waged a vicious and unrelenting campaign of scapegoating and fear-mongering against immigrants. “They’re taking our jobs,” he has said. “They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.”

Almost as bad were employers who hired the undocumented. Such employers should face “a huge financial penalty,” Trump said. Or it could be “beyond a financial penalty.”

However, recent reporting has uncovered how the Trump Organization has employed undocumented immigrants for years across its golf courses and businesses. This was far from an isolated incident. As one Washington Post headline read, “From Costa Rica to New Jersey, a pipeline of illegal workers for Trump goes back years.” It has often been said that the U.S. immigration system is symbolized by a “keep out” sign at the border and a “help wanted” sign just past that. Trump and his businesses represent this hypocrisy perfectly, with President Trump constantly attacking immigrant communities while the Trump Organization ran on — as one former manager recalled — “the cheapest labor possible.”

It has been due to the courageous actions of dozens of immigrants who have come forward that we now know of the exploitation and abuse undocumented workers suffered while working for the Trump Organization. Former employees have said they were routinely threatened and called racial slurs by managers, while supervisors who knew about their undocumented status helped them procure papers. Two incredibly brave women, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz, led the way, standing up to the Trump Organization while risking their livelihoods and putting themselves in danger of deportation.

Morales and Diaz worked for Trump’s private club in Bedminster, New Jersey for years while they were undocumented. Bedminster has been referred to as the “Summer White House”; it is where Ivanka Trump was married, and it is where Trump wants to build a family cemetery.  

Since Morales and Diaz exposed the Trump Organization, Eric Trump (who now runs the day-to-day operations) admitted that they employed undocumented workers. Since reports about the Trump Organization hiring undocumented workers surfaced, the Organization has fired at least 18 undocumented workers from five of their golf courses in New York and New Jersey. Several of those workers had been employed by the Trump Organization for decades. And they probably represent a larger number of seasonal employees who will not be rehired this spring.  

Eric Trump has claimed that he could not possibly be aware of the hiring practices of the businesses he runs. But the Washington Post reported that in a promotional video from 2011, Eric said: “There is not one element of these clubhouses which we don’t know about it. You name it — we’re involved.” Stories from former Trump Organization employees only further belie the idea that the Organization did not know what it was doing when it hired undocumented workers even as Donald Trump waged war against them.

Victorina Morales

Victorina (“Vicki”) Morales was a trusted employee of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where she worked for five years. Morales had access to the private villa where Trump would stay when he visited the club, and washed Trump’s clothes, made his bed, and scrubbed the toilets. Her hard work for Trump led to, among other things, a July 2018 certificate from the White House Communications Agency for “outstanding” service during Trump’s visits.

Born in Guatemala, Morales fled to the United States after suffering horrific tragedies. As a child, her father was murdered in front of her and her siblings. After she grew up and was married, her father-in-law was also murdered in front of her and her children. To escape the violence, Morales headed north to the United States and entered the country without prior authorization in 1999. She eventually made her way to New Jersey, where she was hired by Trump’s Bedminster club in 2013.

“I don’t have good papers,” Morales remembers telling the hiring manager. The manager told   her that “status didn’t matter,” and Morales should just bring whatever she used at the last place she worked.

Things at the club started to change after Trump began his presidential campaign. When he was elected, managers at the club came back to Morales and told here she needed new documents. Reminding them that she was undocumented, Morales said she did not know where to get new documents nor did she have the money for them. Her supervisor told her not to worry, took her photo in the laundry room of the club, then lent her the $175 for new documents. A fellow employee drove her to pick up her new documents.

Morales also said she was never “offered health care, a 401k, or other benefits that my documented co-workers received. How can they say they didn’t know we were undocumented?”

Morales said that she and her undocumented coworkers were often treated badly by managers who used racial slurs and threatened them over their undocumented status. As Morales told the Washington Post:

The worse things [Trump] said, the worse it seemed my supervisors treated me. My other supervisor used my undocumented status, and the false papers, to force me into difficult jobs under horrible conditions. She pushed me, called me stupid, and once went so far as to say that her dog understood English better than I did. When I complained, she threatened to call immigration and have me deported.

Morales also said she suffered physical abuse on three separate occasions while working for Trump’s club, such as a supervisor pushing her into the wall.

Ultimately, that abuse and the knowledge that her boss — Donald Trump — was saying horrible things about immigrants like her, led Victorina to speak out about her story. “We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way [Trump] talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” she said. She said that Trump should perfectly well know that immigrants are not the monsters he paints them as being:

I am undocumented, but I am not a violent criminal. I am a hardworking person who pays taxes and supports my family and my community. Many undocumented immigrants have stories just like mine. We literally were fleeing for our lives and seeking a better life for our children. I have come to know many kind Americans, and I know they would do the same for their children. I am speaking up for the millions of immigrants across the United States who are living in the shadows, afraid to come out because of the way the President Trump has humiliated us.

Sandra Diaz

Sandra Diaz worked for at Bedminster from 2010 to 2013 and helped clean both Donald and Ivanka Trump’s houses on the property. Trusted with maintaining an intimate setting, Diaz had personal contact with Donald Trump, his family, and in-laws over the years she worked for the club.  

A native of Costa Rica, Diaz began working at the club when she was undocumented, and she has since become a legal resident of the United States. And like Morales, Diaz said management knew that she was undocumented when she was hired at the club. Diaz makes clear that she wasn’t the only one. “We share our story because it isn’t just one or two [undocumented workers] working there at the golf course. . . There are a lot,” explained Diaz.

Diaz came to the U.S. in 2009 to visit friends, who happened to have been working at Trump’s Bedminster club for years and told Diaz that she too could work there. They told Diaz that she just had to bring two photographs to the club. Diaz said when she showed up for her interview at the club, she was handed a folder with a fake green card and fake Social Security card already inside. The hiring manager then told Diaz that he would make a copy of her new documents and give them back to her, and that she shouldn’t show them to anyone. Diaz later destroyed her copy after the supervisor told her it was not good for her to have those documents and that she could not use them anywhere else.

Her supervisors, however, would use the knowledge of Diaz’s undocumented status to threaten her. “When I worked for the golf course, we were repeatedly threatened that if we kept complaining, they would get immigration to come and take us,” siad Diaz. She was told she “should be grateful to even to have jobs.”  

Diaz left her job at the club after the repeated abuse she and other undocumented workers like Morales suffered at the club.

Victorina, Sandra, and the State of the Union

In recognition of their brave coming out stories and powerful voices, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz were invited to attend the 2019 State of the Union as guests of Democratic House members. Unsurprisingly, Trump used the occasion to once again to scapegoat and fearmonger against immigrants. But Morales and Diaz’s presence was a reminder of how Trump and his family rely on the contributions of immigrants and their hard work, while he and his Administration constantly demonize the immigrant community.

When asked by Vox by what she would say to Donald Trump if she had the chance, Morales replied:

I would ask him to please reform the immigration system. There are millions of us here without papers, and the country depends on us. He knows that because his businesses depend on us and he knows how hard I worked. . . . We’re already here and he needs to let us stay. We’ve done everything for him, and then he goes on television and insults us.

More voices from former Trump employees

Dozens of other former Trump employees have echoed Morales and Diaz’s stories of abuse and exploitation.

Gilberta Dominguez said she was hired in 2016 at the Bedminster club after people who worked for the club helped her obtain fake work documents. She said she told the hiring manager that “the papers are not good,” but the manager told her that “it didn’t matter…don’t talk about it.”  But Dominguez said management would use her immigration status as the basis for repeated verbal insults and racial slurs. She said management would call her and other undocumented workers “‘stupid people’ and would say, ‘This is America. Here they speak English, not Spanish.’”

Gabriel Sedano, who is undocumented, has worked for Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York since 2005, but was fired in January 2019. Sedano’s 14 years of service ended abruptly, after reports about the Trump Organization’s hiring practices came out. “I started to cry,” he said when he and several of his co-workers were unceremoniously fired. “I’d never done anything wrong, only work and work,” Sedano said. “I told them they needed to consider us. I had worked almost 15 years for them in this club, and I’d given the best of myself to this job.”

Margarita Cruz, who is undocumented, also worked for the Trump’s Westchester club and was fired at the same time as Sedano after working there for the last eight years. Throughout those years, management “said absolutely nothing. They never said, ‘your Social Security number is bad’ or ‘something is wrong,’ ” recalled Cruz.

Edmundo Morocho said that he was hired around 2000 at the Westchester club, and worked there for almost two decades while he was undocumented. Morocho gave the club a fake green card that he purchased, which expired in 2002, but management did not ask Morocho for a replacement until a decade later. When he did replace the card it had a different birth date than the first one — but no questions were asked. “The accountant took copies and said, ‘Okay, it’s fine.’ He didn’t say anything more,” said Morocho.  

Jesus Lira, who also worked for Trump’s Westchester club, said his documents were rejected twice times in 2008. Lira remembered the accountant telling him, “‘I can’t accept this, go back and tell them to do a better job,’” after seeing the documents Lira purchased.  

Dario Angulo, a Costa Rican national, worked for the Bedminster club for seven years, using heavy machinery to help build the club. Angulo was only paid $8 an hour with no benefits or overtime pay — a fraction of the roughly $51 wage a licensed and documented heavy equipment operator in the area might make. The low pay and lack of benefits was similar for the other undocumented immigrants working in construction at Trump’s Bedminster club.

Juan Carlos Zuñiga was one of the first Costa Ricans hired to work at Bedminster, and management quickly told Zuñiga to bring more workers. Zuñiga estimated that at one point there were more than 100 Costa Ricans working at the club. There were so many working there that Zuñiga’s cousin bought a used school bus, and charged the workers for a ride to and from the club.

“My whole town practically lived there.” said another worker, Mauricio Garro, who is from Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, and who worked at the Bedminster club.

After working for the club for years, Zuñiga wanted to change his false papers to reflect his real name, in case he was hurt on the job. When Zuñiga turned in new fake documents with a different name, he said management merely laughed at the discrepancies. Zuñiga remembered management “making jokes about the Social Security cards in the office, because they looked so fake.”

Zuñiga recalled that workers had to labor through heat and through storms with little protection. They had to stage a one-day strike in 2007 to force supervisors to pay them for sick days and offer rain jackets to some of the workers.

One worker, Franklin Mora, said management “treated us like slaves.” He said he was mocked by management for his limited English and was required to mow the grass so quickly that he was forced to jog to keep up.

Many of the undocumented workers said that those who had legal status were given benefits, better raises, and promotions. To them, it seemed evident that there was a two-tiered system at the club, even among workers performing similar work.

Even after Trump had been assigned a secret service detail, management worked to conceal the employees that were undocumented. Emma Torres, who worked in New Jersey, remembers asking a human resources employee to remove her name from a list of people to be vetted by the Secret Service. “She crossed out our names,” said Torres of the human resources employee, who apparently already knew who all the undocumented employees were.

A federal investigation is needed

“These are elements of federal crimes and it’s important that the state attorney general’s office or federal authorities investigate this case,” said Anibal Romero, the attorney representing dozens of the Trump employees. “It is unacceptable that employees of the Trump National Golf Club have to endure this type of abuse.”

Members of Congress agree. “I believe there’s been violations of the law,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), before circulating a letter requesting a “thorough federal investigation into the disturbing allegations from former Trump Organization employees.” Rep. Grijalva was joined by nine other members of Congress. “I intend to, with others, urge the administration to treat these folks as what they are — material witnesses to what may have been a serious crime,” said one of them, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). Rep. Malinowski went on to call the situation the  “height of hypocrisy.”

As the letter reads:

The Trump Organization fired these hardworking employees—many of whom had worked there for over ten years—as President Trump shut down the government over a border wall that would supposedly keep undocumented immigrants out. However, he did not hesitate to break the law to employ them and exploit them for his own financial gain. Nobody is above the law, and that includes the President of the United States.

Rep. Grijalva reiterated the point saying, “if the president maintains that there have to be consequences for others, there should be consequences for his organization, no?”

The Trump Organization’s potential criminal and civil violations  

As David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and legal advisor on the workers’ cases said:

The worker’s stories are clear, they are victims of crime. The allegations that someone inside the organization procured false documents for its workers suggest a level of coercion over these workers, which is precisely what federal law protects them from. You can’t hire someone and coerce them to continue working for you.

Anibal Romero further explained that there was a “toxic environment was designed to intimidate these women, leaving them fearful for their safety and the safety of their families…people employed by the golf club recruited [these workers and got them] phony documents,” Romero said, making it clear that these women did not get these jobs on their own.

For the Trump Organization and its supervisors, the potential criminal and civil violations of knowingly hiring undocumented workers and then threatening them include: “false documents, transportation of workers. You’ve got harboring issues, forced labor issues and trafficking issues–as well as evidence of clear pattern and practice of hiring and abusing undocumented workers. You’ve also got detailed descriptions of a hostile work environment–especially after Trump was inaugurated,” said Leopold.

Here’s the full breakdown of potential charges:

  • Trafficking: Under federal law, a person who transports, harbors, or conspires to transport or harbor undocumented individuals for commercial gain may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. Without commercial gain, the penalty is up to five years in prison.
  • Conspiracy: Employers who knowingly hire 10 or undocumented individuals may be subject up to 5 years in prison.
  • Conspiracy, Part Two: Those with a pattern and practice of hiring undocumented workers may be subject to civil money penalties and up to 6 months in prison.
  • Procuring False Documents: Those who conceal the forgery of documents for immigration benefits could be imprisoned up to 5 years.
  • Forced and Coerced Labor: There is up to a 20 year prison sentence for people who employ a person by means of: force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person​ or another ​person​; the ​abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process​; or any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the ​person​ to believe that they would be harmed if that person​ did not perform such labor or services.
  • Knowing Disregard: If a person knew or knowingly disregarded the fact that their business engaged in forced labor and financially or otherwise benefited from it, they could be subject to up to 20 years in prison.  
  • Permanent Under Class: Allegations of disparate treatment in pay and benefits also raise serious civil and criminal tax issues.
  • Beyond the criminal and civil violations, the Trump Organization could also face additional tax, labor, and civil liabilities from an investigation.

In the face of the potential violations it is important to remember that these undocumented workers are the victims of a crime, and the Department of Homeland Security should protect them by granting them U and T visas or other appropriate legal protection. As Romero said, “any undocumented immigrant who has worked for Donald Trump and his properties could be considered a material witness in a federal case against the organization for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.” And any attempt to deport the workers that remain undocumented “could be considered obstruction of justice.”

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