This article has been updated.
President Trump has built much of his presidency — and his 2020 reelection campaign — around a simple message: Illegal immigration is a national crisis.
Trump says that undocumented immigrants threaten national security, and they also hurt American workers by taking jobs and lowering overall wages.
“Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate,” Trump said in his State of the Union address this year. “It is cruel.”
But, as The Washington Post has detailed this year, Trump’s company has relied in private on workers without legal immigration status even as Trump denounced such immigrants in public.
For years, and into Trump’s presidency, the president’s golf clubs employed undocumented workers as waiters, groundskeepers and housekeepers, according to the accounts of more than 40 former workers and supervisors who spoke to The Post. He also employed such workers as part of an in-house construction crew for stone masonry projects at several of his golf courses.
In doing so, Trump reaped the financial benefits of using undocumented employees — an ability to pay his employees lower wages and fewer benefits — while reaping the political benefits of attacking it.
The Trump Organization has denied that it knowingly hired undocumented immigrants. The company fired at least 20 undocumented workers this year after an internal audit or a check with the federal E-Verify system found that they had submitted fraudulent papers.
“This is one of the reasons why my father is fighting so hard for immigration reform. The system is broken,” Eric Trump, the president’s son, told The Post in January.
Most recently, The Post reported that President Trump’s company has enrolled all its golf courses in the E-Verify system, which revealed that more of the company’s longtime employees were undocumented. At least two workers have been fired as a result.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far about the Trump Organization’s use of undocumented workers:
How many Trump properties have employed undocumented workers — and for how long?
At least five golf courses — and for 17 years at one club.
A roving construction crew that has been working for Trump for nearly two decades also has employed workers without legal status.
This crew was composed of immigrants from Ecuador and Guatemala. They built fountains, rock walls, stone chimneys and other masonry projects at Trump’s winery in Virginia as well as at his golf courses from New York to Florida.
“If you’re a good worker, papers don’t matter,” said Jorge Castro, an undocumented Ecuadorean immigrant who worked for the Trump-owned outfit, known as Mobile Payroll Construction, from 2010 until April of this year.
Since December, when the New York Times told the story of two women who worked without legal status at Bedminster, the Trump Organization has fired undocumented workers at five of its 12 U.S. golf clubs. Three of the clubs are in New Jersey, in the towns of Bedminster, Colts Neck and Pine Hill. Two are in New York, in Westchester and Dutchess counties.
In Westchester, 11 workers were fired in January, including some who had been at the club for more than a decade. Several of those workers told The Post they were abruptly fired after a meeting with a Trump Organization executive.
“I started to cry,” said Gabriel Sedano, a former maintenance worker from Mexico who was among those fired. He had worked at the club since 2005. “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.”
At the Bedminster club, workers without legal status were hired even longer ago — back in 2002, when the course was being built.
The latest known firings happened in April, at Trump’s Colts Neck, N.J., course. There, two longtime cooks — both undocumented immigrants from Mexico — said they were fired in April after the E-Verify system flagged them for presenting fake documents. The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about whether E-Verify checks had resulted in firings at other courses.
Did their supervisors know about their status?
The Trump Organization has said it was unaware that it employed undocumented workers until recently.
But many former Trump workers say that’s hard to believe. They said there were dozens like them working without legal status — an estimated 100 in Bedminster alone. They told The Post they believed their managers knew.
“My whole town practically lived there,” one Costa Rican worker said of the Bedminster club.
In another flag to the management, a Bedminster police officer investigating a hit-and-run in 2011 arrested an employee of Trump’s club and determined he was an undocumented immigrant working under a fake name. The officer told the club’s head of security the employee “may be using a false name and government documentation.”
The worker was deported.
At Westchester, one former manager said that the workers were known to be undocumented — and that management used that fact as leverage against them. When Trump headquarters asked them to reduce overtime, the manager said, Trump bosses told undocumented workers to “clock out” and then continue working for free.
“There was a conscious effort to pay less wages because they knew about the lack of documents,” said the former manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company policy. “You know, where are they going to go?”
Trump’s company called these accounts “nonsense.”
“The Trump Organization has extensive policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance with all wage and hour laws,” Trump spokeswoman Kimberly Benza said, after The Post sent a brief description of the employees’ accounts. “This story is total nonsense and nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations from illegal immigrants who unlawfully submitted fake identification in an effort to obtain employment.”
Did Trump know he employed workers who had entered the United States illegally?
We don’t know.
Neither the Trump Organization nor the White House has responded to questions about what Trump knew.
Eric Trump has indicated the Trump Organization was unaware of these undocumented workers until recently, when he said the company was forced to fire them. “Our employees are like family, but when presented with fake documents, an employer has little choice,” he said.
Last month, Trump said that he did not know whether his company employed undocumented workers.
“Well, that I don’t know. Because I don’t run it,” Trump told reporters. “But I would say this: Probably every club in the United States has that, because it seems to me, from what I understand, a way that people did business.”
As a candidate, what did Trump say about his company’s hiring practices?
During the presidential campaign, Trump said his company was using E-Verify, a voluntary federal system that allows employers to quickly check the immigration status of new hires.
“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,” Trump said at a rally in Beaumont, Tex., in 2015.
“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.”
Was that true?
Until 2019, only three of Trump’s golf courses were listed in the official database of companies enrolled in E-Verify. That changed, however. After media reporting about the company’s firing of undocumented workers, Eric Trump pledged to enroll all his company’s business.
Now, all 12 of Trump’s U.S. golf courses, as well as several other Trump businesses, are listed as using the system. The two cooks fired at Trump’s golf course in Colts Neck are the only employees known to have been terminated because of E-Verify checks.
What investigations may the Trump Organization face into its use of undocumented labor?
In New York, the state attorney general’s office has interviewed more than two dozen former undocumented workers at Trump’s Westchester County golf club, focusing on allegations of wage- and labor-law violations.
Two former undocumented workers from that club told The Post that they were told to work extra hours without pay. Others at the same club alleged they were denied overtime pay for working 60-hour weeks. The New York Attorney General’s office declined to comment in May 2019 about the state of that inquiry.
In addition, investigators for the New Jersey attorney general and the FBI have gathered information from former workers at the Bedminster club, according to an attorney for some of the workers. But it is unclear whether those agencies are still looking into the club.
The New Jersey attorney general declined to comment. The FBI declined to comment.
In late April, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) asked acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan to assure that “the department won’t play favorites” by giving the Trump clubs special treatment.
McAleenan’s answer was general, not mentioning Trump or his clubs by name.
The department’s “efforts will remain targeted at the most significant violators,” He said. McAleenan said he wanted to “ensure we have integrity in the entire process.”
Would a wall have stopped the undocumented workers from coming to the United States?
Some of the Trump workers without legal status said they entered the country by crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Trump has said the barrier he proposes would stop such migrants from crossing the border.
Critics of his idea point out that existing stretches of wall and fencing haven’t stopped tens of thousands of people from getting through each year and that there is no end to the ways people can get over, under, around or through such barriers.
Other workers arrived on flights with tourist visas and overstayed those visas. In those cases, a wall wouldn’t matter.