On Friday, The Washington Post reported that there are entire communities of former Trump Organization employees in Central America, people who once worked illegally for President Trump’s sprawling resort empire as undocumented immigrants, often with their supervisors’ knowledge. People who helped build the Trump Organization as it now is, some of whom were lucky to avoid the fate of those staffers in Westchester, moving back home before the politics of a president railing against illegal immigration while profiting from undocumented immigrants’ work became untenable.
This issue came up during the campaign, too, on several occasions. As with so many other controversies that Trump faced during 2016, the question of his employing undocumented immigrants — as when The Post talked to people building his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington — was quickly washed away by some other newer or bigger controversy. But when it came up, it prompted Trump to assert repeatedly that he was doing something he clearly wasn’t: Screening his employees to make sure they could work legally in the United States.
At one point, in fact, he suggested that those who employ immigrants in the country illegally should face “a huge financial penalty” — or that it “could be beyond a financial penalty.”
Trump repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail that his properties used a government program called E-Verify to ensure that Trump Organization employees were allowed to work in the country. As our David Fahrenthold points out, though, only some Trump properties used the system, while some others used a third-party system aimed at the same ostensible goal. The hotel in D.C., for example, does not appear to currently be using E-Verify, according to a search of the program’s database.
In Beaumont, Tex., in November 2015, Trump told a rally audience that he ensured his business wouldn’t hire undocumented employees. He was making a case for getting such immigrants out of the country, first endorsing a highly controversial Eisenhower-era deportation program and then claiming that, by shutting off employment opportunities, immigrants would leave of their own volition.
“Today we have things like E-Verify, where the employer will say, I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I use now E-Verify in most of my jobs,” Trump told the audience. “I have thousands and thousands of employees. I have hired tens of thousands of employees, many Hispanic, over the years. Many, many. They’re fantastic. Many from Mexico. Today, many, many employees from Mexico. They’re great.”
“But I have — and I think, to me, it’s very important — E-Verify,” he continued. “So now I find out: Are they legal or not? Now, if they can’t get a job, they’re moving out. They’re going to move out — No one has to — you don’t need soldiers, they’re going to move out. It’s so simple. But a politician doesn’t know this. A politician doesn’t know it. They’re all talk, they’re no action. All they know how to do is get reelected.”
At another point in the speech he allowed that some immigrants should be allowed to come in since, as he put it, the people in the audience there weren’t going to pick grapes.
“If we need some people, we can bring people in on work visas,” he said. From 2013 to 2016, the Trump Organization sought more than 500 visas for foreign workers. It has continued to do so.
Once the Republican primaries got underway in February 2016, Trump’s opponents pointed to The Post’s report about his hotel in Washington and to old reports about the construction of Trump Tower to link Trump to the hiring of undocumented workers. In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” at the end of the month, host Chuck Todd asked Trump about it.
“Basically, the charge is this, Mr. Trump: You don’t practice what you preach on immigration,” Todd said.
Trump dismissed the Trump Tower story as old news. As for the hotel, he said that it was “one of the great hotels in the world that’s currently being built on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“We do checks like you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said. “And they didn’t name any names, they didn’t give any information. We are very, very careful. We have an excellent contractor, one of the best in the country, works with me, because we build them, I negotiate everything. And that’s why that job, by the way, is two years ahead of schedule and under budget.”
“Do you use E-Verify in everything you do?” Todd asked a bit later.
“Yeah, I have it. I have E-Verify. Yes, I do,” Trump said. “And I use E-Verify in that building. And The Washington Post mentioned that they spoke to people. There’s no names. I read the story. It was from a few months ago. There were no names whatsoever, they have no proof, they have no evidence, no nothing. They saw people. And there were people coming out of the building.”
“And they were absolutely, we go with E-Verify,” he continued. “I am extremely strong on it, every time I have a contractor meeting on that building, and we’re good fantastically well, you know, we’re going to open that building in September, which will be very exciting, just before the election.”
At the end of March, during a town hall meeting with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, an audience member asked about his immigration policy. Trump and Matthews soon got into a back-and-forth.
Matthews disparaged the wall.
“If you had to get here to get a job, you’d get here,” he said. “And my question is this: What are we going to do about illegal hiring?”
“Well, you can do that with E-Verify and the various methods,” Trump replied.
“Oh, you’re for it?” Matthews asked about E-Verify.
"I'm for it,” Trump said. “I use it."
"What should be the punishment for hiring someone — what should be the punishment for, really, you're collaborating with an illegal immigrant?” Matthews asked.
“You can be very, very strong,” Trump replied. “It can be a huge financial penalty. It could be beyond a financial penalty.”
What’s beyond a financial penalty, of course, is a criminal penalty. Trump, apparently to mask what his own organization was doing, was advocating that those who, like him, employed undocumented immigrants, face steep fines or criminal charges.
“You know, I’m using E-Verify on just about every job, on Doral I’m using it, but I’m using it on the building, the old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue that I’m building into what will soon be a phenomenal hotel,” Trump continued. “And I’m using E-Verify, and I’m telling you it works.”
“But in principle,” Matthews replied, “the person who hires someone illegally — I’m not talking about leaf-raking in front of the house or I’m going to push the snow out of the way — I’m talking about somebody who hires them to save money on labor. ... You’re basically encouraging illegal immigration, because that’s why this guy or woman is coming here, right?”
“Yes,” Trump said, “and you can solve the problem with E-Verify and other systems.”
In October, after Hillary Clinton raised the question of Trump’s use of undocumented workers at the D.C. hotel, Trump insisted he hadn’t, for two reasons.
“Number one, I didn’t want to,” Trump said. “And number two, I’m running for president, why would I do that? So I went with the E-Verify system. We didn’t have one illegal immigrant on the job. Everybody knows it. ... I would have saved probably a lot of money, right? But I have the E-Verify system. I didn’t hire one illegal immigrant to build Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Late last month, the Trump Organization made an announcement: It would expand its use of E-Verify.
Voters who took Trump at his word that he’d used the system to ensure he wasn’t being hypocritical about employing undocumented immigrants can now be more confident in 2020 that it’s actually true.