undocumented immigration

Trump and His Company Are No Aliens to Undocumented Workers

President Trump speaking at a campaign event at his Westchester golf club in 2016.
Candidate Trump, seen here at a 2016 campaign event at his Westchester golf club, might not have gotten as much political traction if his company’s use of undocumented labor was more widely realized. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this month, while President Trump was still holding countless American workers hostage so he could demonstrate his resolve against undocumented immigrants, his company quietly fired nearly half of the people who were working at one of the Trump’s golf clubs — because they were undocumented immigrants. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that a dozen employees at Trump’s Westchester golf club got the ax two weeks ago because of their immigration status. It is also the second time in less than a month that workers at a Trump-owned club have been found to lack documentation and were terminated, but the fired employees have all said that their managers had already known they were undocumented and it had never been a problem before.

The Latin American workers who worked at the Trump National Golf Club Westchester, according to the Post, included employee-of-the-month winners and people who had been working there for well over a decade. One was a server whom Eric Trump, the president’s son, knew by name. Another was a head chef at the club, their lawyer told the New York Times, while others worked as housekeepers, landscapers, or maintenance workers. These people had access to Eric Trump’s weekend home, and can recount cordial interactions with the president and his family, or exactly how the elder Trump expected his chicken wings.

None of the employees appear to have given the company any other reason to fire them, but that didn’t matter. After years of serving the Trumps and club members, the workers were cast off, and they and their families now face an uncertain future in a country where their former employer is doing everything in his considerable power to make sure they don’t have one.

One employee, a middle-age Mexican maintenance worker named Gabriel Sedano, had been employed at the club since 2005, and told the Post that he started to cry when they informed him he was fired:

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. I’d never done anything wrong, only work and work. They said they didn’t have any comments to make.

Another worker, whose shares a recording of her termination in the video below, said that when she told the HR executive who fired her that she was a single mother and asked why they could not have given her any warning because of that, the executive replied that they were just following the law. If that’s so, it’s a novel development at the Trump Organization on this type of matter, according to their undocumented employees.

It’s Part of a Pattern

Earlier this month, the Times reported that the company had also recently fired several undocumented workers at Trump’s club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The crackdown came after an earlier Times story was published last month about two undocumented employees at the property. One was Victorina Morales, a 45-year-old Guatemalan who had worked there as a housekeeper for five years. She had regularly made the president’s bed, had personally received large cash tips from him, and was once awarded a certificate from the White House Communications Agency for her “outstanding” work during Trump’s frequent visits. The two women approached the Times, via their immigration lawyer, because they were fed up with the president’s attacks on immigrants like them. They said managers at the club were aware of their true immigration status, and Morales said she believed the president himself must have known she was undocumented.

Gabriel Sedano said the same thing in an interview with NBC Nightly News on Sunday. Asked if the president knew the Westchester club employed undocumented immigrants, Sedano replied, “I cannot be sure about that but like, he got to know… He must’ve known.”

A Trump Organization spokesperson told the Times last year that the company had tens of thousands of employees, strict hiring practices, and terminated anyone who was found to have gained employment with false documents. But that’s not even close to true, according to the employees who spoke to the Times and Post. These immigrants — most of whom entered the U.S. on foot across the same southern border President Trump is obsessed with walling off — said that company managers at both properties did not carefully scrutinize their documentation when they were hired and continued to look the other way afterward. Only recently, according to an anonymous Trump insider who spoke to the Times, has the company started reviewing its employees’ work authorizations.

Mangers at the clubs didn’t just look the other way, the workers claim, sometimes they got involved, thought it’s not clear if they did it to protect themselves or the employees. One man who had worked at the Westchester club for 18 years told the Post that his fake green card had been expired for a decade before a manager told him to get a new one. In another case, a manager reviewed and rejected one employee’s fake documents and told him he needed to obtain better ones. At the New Jersey club, an employee said that a manger told her she needed new documents, told her about another employee who could help with that, and even lent her the money she needed to purchase them.

A kitchen worker at the Bedminster club who came forward to the Times earlier this month claimed that when the Secret Service had asked for her and other kitchen staffers to submit their names and Social Security number as part of a security check, she anxiously informed someone in human resources that she was undocumented. The HR person told her, “It’s okay. No problem,” and removed her from the Secret Service’s list. She then asked which other employees lacked documents so she could remove them too. None of them lost their jobs.

Taken together, these business practices clearly constitute a pattern, and one that Trump Organization executives had to have been aware of.

One of the workers who was fired this month cleaning a ballroom at the Westchester golf club before a Trump campaign event in 2016. Photo: Victor Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Candidate Trump’s Original Lie

Donald Trump infamously launched his presidential campaign in 2015 by demonizing undocumented immigrants as rapists and murderers, even though he had undoubtedly been having personal interactions with decent, hardworking undocumented immigrants at his hospitality businesses for decades. Later in the campaign, Trump even bragged that his company had used the federal E-Verify system to confirm that no undocumented workers were involved in the construction of his new hotel in Washington, D.C. But a Post investigation easily confirmed that was not true, as undocumented laborers had in fact worked on the project. Trump and other White House officials have also advocated for mandating the use of E-Verify nationwide, but Trump’s own company seems to have mandated the check only in states where it was legally required. That excluded the clubs in New Jersey and New York, which were also not on the U.S. government’s list of E-Verify participants.

It’s already well known that the Trump Organization has regularly turned to countless foreign workers with guest visas to staff its properties, and even turned away native workers to do so. Now it’s plainly obvious that the president’s company has also consistently — and in at least some cases, willingly — relied on an undocumented workforce of unknown size, and there is evidence the company helped hide that fact from authorities. This has gone on before and during Trump’s campaign and presidency, and despite Trump’s endless nativist posturing and race-baiting, his administration’s brutal war on immigrants and their families, and his still fruitless crusade to erect a border wall.

It may not have been spelled out in the Trump Organization’s employee handbook, but the company’s de facto policy regarding workers’ documentation, according to a former manager at the Westchester club who talked to the Post, was “don’t ask, don’t tell”:

“It didn’t matter. They didn’t care [about immigration status],” said the former manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve ties with current Trump executives. “It was, ‘Get the cheapest labor possible.’ ” The former manager said the assumption at the club was that immigration authorities were not likely to target golf clubs for mass raids.

Not yet, anyway, but it’s clearly been on someone’s mind at the Trump family’s business since the Times story came out last month — though it’s unlikely that ICE agents would have ever stormed the greens, garages, and kitchens of Trump National Golf Club. Why the issue hadn’t been important enough to look into until nearly two years into Trump’s presidency remains an open question.

An entrance to the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York.
An entrance to the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York. Photo: Bobby Bank/WireImage

When contacted by the Post regarding the fired Westchester workers, Eric Trump would not say how many audits the company has done of its workforce or how many undocumented workers had been fired as a result. He also didn’t answer whether he and other executives had been aware of the issue, or explain what he personally knew about the Westchester employees, at least some of whom he seems to have personally known.

“We are making a broad effort to identify any employee who has given false and fraudulent documents to unlawfully gain employment,” he said, and firing anyone who had. He also blamed the country’s “broken system” for the problem.

President Trump’s rhetoric about undocumented immigrants and his administration’s extreme anti-immigration policies have had a real effect across his first term, as has his noxious and undoubtedly sincere racial animus toward Latin Americans. But he has still known these people, and he and his family and company have knowingly benefited from their labor and tacitly supported them in the process. Trump’s like-minded supporters and allies may just see his act as a means to an end, but his company’s embrace of undocumented labor should still matter. It should also rewrite Trump’s political origin story, because the stances that launched and sustained Trump’s rise in politics — his unabashed nativism and obsessions with undocumented immigration, building a border wall, and President Obama’s proof of citizenship — are as meaningless to him as a Trump University degree. They, along with Trump’s rhetoric about supporting workers, are the fake views that allowed a reality television star to take over the Republican Party and the country.

We’ve all now seen, via the shutdown, how far the president is willing to go — and what he is willing to do to the country — in pursuit of a victorious photo-op for his signature bullshit. As both recently furloughed federal workers and recently fired golf club workers can now attest, Trump really doesn’t care about or feel any loyalty toward the hardworking average people who depend on him or who he depends on. It doesn’t matter whether they protect the border without pay or try to clean the makeup stains out of his golf shirts, their sacrifice is all for the greater-good coverage on Fox News.

The president and his nativist handlers like to talk about how a big border wall and the administration’s often inhuman policies toward immigrants and asylum seekers will deter people from ever coming to the U.S. in the first place. Perhaps they should start advertising how terribly his employees, both legal and not, have fared as well.

This post has been updated to include Gabriel Sedano’s comments on NBC Nightly News.

Trump and His Company Are No Aliens to Undocumented Workers