Trump’s own undocumented help highlights plight of many immigrants

Trump’s own undocumented help highlights plight of many immigrants

Originally published by The Hill

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that two more women have come forward to say that they worked at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey while undocumented. This comes after the Times’ story last week about an undocumented immigrant who worked as a maid at the club since 2013. Victorina Morales said she had made Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet, and dusted his trophies, all while working without proper papers. Including another woman who now has legal status, this brings the total to four former employees who say they worked at the club while undocumented.

The Times noted that there is no evidence that the president or his executives knew about the workers’ immigration status. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization told the paper that the company has “very strict hiring practices,” and that anyone who has submitted false documents “will be terminated immediately.”

More than potentially exposing hypocrisy on a grand scale, the allegations by these workers illustrate how pervasive the use of undocumented labor really is. Their experiences belie some of the myths that Trump promotes about illegal immigration and raise legitimate questions about hiring practices at his properties.

A 2016 report by the Pew Research Center estimated that there are 8 million unauthorized workers in the country, constituting 5 percent of the labor force. In some sectors, this figure is higher; the undocumented make up about 9 percent of workers in the leisure/hospitality field.

There is a long list of politicians and public figures caught hiring workers without papers, from Judge Kimba Wood to Meg Whitman to Mitt Romney. Yet the Trump Organization’s alleged use of illegal workers is remarkable because the president has consistently derided undocumented immigrants as a threat to the country. How ironic that some of these people spent years cleaning his residence and tending to his personal needs. Sandra Diaz told the Times about receiving compliments and tips from the president for her work, which included scrubbing orange makeup off Trump’s golf shirts. Meanwhile, in public, Trump was calling for a wall along the southern border and referring to immigrants as “rapists” and “bad hombres.”

The accounts from former Trump golf club workers also offer a window into the precarious lives of the undocumented. These women said that the immigration status of some workers was an open secret at Trump’s club. At least two of them showed the Times documents indicating that they paid taxes, just as, overall, the undocumented pay billions in taxes each year. Several of the workers said they were subjected to verbal abuse and threatened with deportation by supervisors, a reminder that undocumented workers can face exploitation and mistreatment no matter where they work.

This is not the first time Trump has been linked to the use of foreign and illegal workers. Despite the president’s 2017 executive order to “Buy American and Hire American,” his companies use many foreigners on guest worker visas. In 2016, former models at his modeling agency told Mother Jones Magazine that they had worked in the U.S. in violation of their visa regulations. In 2015, the Washington Post reported on workers building the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. who said they were in the country illegally. In 1998, Trump paid $1.4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by undocumented Polish workers who allegedly were underpaid while they worked on Trump Tower.

True, the former employees at the Trump golf course admit that they used false documents to obtain employment. But considering that they were sometimes in close proximity to the president, his family, and visiting Cabinet members, why weren’t these workers thoroughly vetted by the Secret Service? That seems to be a serious security lapse. Ms. Morales also received a certificate from the White House Communications Agency for her “outstanding” work, which suggests an improper commingling of the president’s public and private interests.

The Department of Homeland Security or an administrative law judge will generally not impose civil or criminal penalties on an employer unless it can be shown that the employer “knowingly” hired unauthorized workers. This is a high bar to clear, so it is unlikely that the Trump Organization will face any punishment.

The undocumented present and former employees of the Trump golf course, in contrast, will possibly face termination and deportation.

Both as a candidate and as president, Trump has rarely missed an opportunity to demonize undocumented immigrants. It should come as no surprise that his companies may have profited off these vulnerable people as well.

Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.  A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.

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