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Congressional Hispanic Caucus calls for investigation into Trump Organization for hiring undocumented workers

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) speaks during a Feb. 25 news conference in Washington. Castro and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter Tuesday to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray urging the federal government to investigate the Trump Organization’s use of undocumented labor. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this week criticized the Department of Homeland Security for the “apparent failure” to investigate the Trump Organization’s use of undocumented labor, and called on authorities to protect fired workers from deportation and treat them as witnesses to a potential crime.

Following a March 7 meeting with three former housekeepers at the Trump Organization’s golf courses, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and four other Democratic members of the caucus wrote a letter Tuesday to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and to the acting inspector general of DHS.

“Many of the Trump Organization employees have stepped forward to recount how the Trump Organization setup a pipeline to systematically obtain cheap immigrant labor and hired undocumented immigrants,” the letter said. “This is clear evidence that the hiring of undocumented immigrants was not a one-time oversight but that this was done methodically and with a deliberate violation of the law.”

The letter further stated that “it is critical that the victims and witnesses of the alleged criminal and civil violations be protected as material witnesses,” and that if DHS moves to deport the Trump workers, it “could be an obstruction of justice.”

In an interview, Castro said the caucus may also seek to hold a hearing on the issue and call the former Trump workers to testify.

The Washington Post has reported that the Trump Organization has relied for years on unauthorized workers at its golf courses in New York and New Jersey, as well as for personal jobs for President Trump’s sons, such as a Mexican immigrant who was hired as caretaker of their New York hunting retreat. The Post has interviewed more than 30 people who worked at the president’s clubs without legal status.

Many of these workers say their supervisors were aware that they were using fraudulent green cards and social security numbers to get their jobs.

Eric Trump — the president’s son who has day-to-day control of the Trump Organization along with his brother Donald Trump Jr. — has said he and other senior executives did not know the company hired unauthorized workers, noting that the employees used falsified documents.

“We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices,” the company said in a statement in December. “If any employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately. We take this issue very seriously.”

The Castro letter said “there currently does not seem to be any criminal or civil investigations into the Trump Organization” on the issue, despite earlier congressional requests for investigations from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz). 

Some of the Trump Organization employees have been interviewed by the New York and New Jersey attorneys general’s offices in recent weeks, according to their attorney, Anibal Romero. But neither has announced a formal investigation of the company’s hiring practices. Spokesmen for both offices declined to comment on Thursday. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond Thursday to requests for comment on whether any action had been taken. An FBI spokeswoman said the agency can neither confirm nor deny whether it is conducting particular investigations.

John Sandweg, a former acting director of ICE during the Obama administration, said that it would be common for ICE to request I-9 forms — used to establish employees’ identity and work authorization — from a company repeatedly in the news for hiring undocumented workers. 

“The bottom line is, any company that’s getting this level of attention about what is a potential pattern and practice of hiring violations, you’d expect there would be some ICE action,” he said. “Typically, what I would expect to see would be an I-9 audit.” 

Homeland Security Investigations conducted nearly 6,000 I-9 audits during the 2018 fiscal year, roughly four times the number conducted during the previous year, according to ICE.

Another former ICE official, who worked in the employer compliance inspection center, said that cases get more attention from the agency when there is evidence employers knowingly hire undocumented workers or are involved in falsifying their documents or helping to traffic them to the United States. Hiring unauthorized workers happens so frequently that ICE agents and auditors have to prioritize their targets. 

“There are always more cases than you can work,” said the former ICE official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential work. “The manpower’s just not there to work every single case that comes across.”

The former official declined to offer an opinion on what should happen to the Trump Organization.

While Democrats have been eager to launch investigations into other aspects of Trump’s business, there have been few calls for action from party leaders on the issue of Trump’s undocumented workers.

Democrats acknowledge the issue can be politically tricky. Liberals in the party who want to abolish ICE may be hesitant to push for stricter ICE enforcement against undocumented employees; those who support immigrants fear further purges of workers.

Republicans also face a thorny path on this issue, caught between impulses to condemn illegal immigration while also wanting to defend the president. Some have said that they don’t judge the Trumps for what subordinates may have done.

So far, the Trump Organization has fired at least 18 undocumented employees at five golf courses in recent months following reports of such workers. And some migrant advocates worry about more firings.

“What if they go through all the records and fire everybody?” Maureen Meyer, director of the Mexico program at the Washington Office on Latin America, said of the Trump Organization. “The hard part of this is the human side of it.” 

Castro, who met with housekeepers from the president’s golf clubs in Bedminster, N.J., and Westchester County, N.Y., said he has seen “so many businesses get in trouble for far less.”

“People are fearful of demonizing undocumented immigrants further, but, to me, this represents the perfect hypocrisy of so many businesses over the years,” Castro said in an interview, referring to owners who privately hire undocumented workers but speak ill of them in public.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), whose district includes the Trump golf club in Bedminster, said he believes there is enough evidence for federal authorities to investigate the Trump Organization’s hiring practices. 

“Every day the president is screaming about bad people invading the United States,” Malinowski said. “The reason they’re coming to the United States is that people like Donald Trump pay them to come to the United States.” 

Nick Miroff and David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.