“Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate – it is cruel.” – President Trump, State of the Union Address, 2/5/2019.
The Department of Homeland Security is reeling. President Donald Trump has taken a scythe to the agency’s upper ranks, and is now trying to redirect his administration’s helter-skelter and brutal immigration stunts.
Along the U.S.’s southern border, the president has forced a vanity project, The Wall, to overwhelm a more sophisticated, bipartisan conversation about immigration policy. And the border itself – which has been the scene of wrenching family separations, migrants held in chain-link holding pens, and at least one visit during which Trump told border guards to break the law and turn away refugees seeking asylum – is rippling with misery and uncertainty.
On Thursday evening, the Washington Post reported that the White House had unsuccessfully tried to force federal immigration officials to transport and then dump migrant detainees in the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against the president’s political opponents, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While Trump’s immigration czar, Stephen Miller, is reportedly the architect of the sanctuary cities policy and played a role in the DHS purge, the president left no doubt who he thinks the public should believe has the last word on immigration policy in his shop.
“Stephen is an excellent guy. He’s a wonderful person,” Trump said this week when asked if Miller’s ascent meant the adviser was steering federal immigration policy. “Frankly, there’s only one person that’s running it. You know who that is? It’s me.”
That’s an interesting statement to consider. Because recent, important debates about the southern border horrors and coverage of accompanying policy squabbles in Congress have overshadowed a steady stream of excellent reporting about the extent to which the president’s company, the Trump Organization, relies on loosely documented – or completely undocumented – migrant workers.
It’s no small matter. The Trump Organization’s hotels, residential buildings and golf courses have all hired immigrants to handle often menial but still crucial tasks that keep the family’s businesses humming along. So consider some of the reporting.
Back in December, the New York Times told the story of Victorina Morales, an undocumented immigrant housekeeper, who had spent more than five years working at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Morales “has made Donald J. Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies,” the paper noted. She told the paper that she had crossed into the U.S. illegally in 1999 and relied, as did other employees at the club, on false green cards and bogus Social Security documentation to demonstrate their eligibility to work.
The Times noted there wasn’t any evidence that the president or his company knew about Morales and her co-workers’ immigration status. Supervisors at the club were aware, however, and actively helped the migrant workers evade detection so they could keep their jobs.
In January, the Times reported that a former employee of the Bedminster club, also an undocumented worker, said her name was removed from the roster of employees there once management realized she needed to evade detection by the U.S. Secret Service (which was conducting a security sweep prior to a presidential visit.)
More recently, the Times found similar problems with migrant workers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. In that case, though, a large number of workers were already in the process of being forced out because of management concerns about documentation problems.
In January, the Washington Post reported that yet another Trump property, the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, was showing a dozen immigrant workers the door because of publicity about their bogus documentation. The business, the Post noted, “was relying on undocumented workers even as the president demanded a border wall to keep out such immigrants.”
“We are making a broad effort to identify any employee who has given false and fraudulent documents to unlawfully gain employment. Where identified, any individual will be terminated immediately,” the president’s son, Eric, told the Post about the Westchester problems. “My father is fighting so hard for immigration reform. The system is broken.”
It is so broken that that the Trumps decided to pursue what appears to have been a sweeping removal of undocumented workers at five of their golf courses in New York and New Jersey that occurred only after newspapers began reporting on it.
It is so broken that the caretaker overseeing a shooting range that Eric and his brother, Donald Jr., co-own in upstate New York was also an undocumented worker.
The Post recently identified a single town in Costa Rica, Santa Teresa de Cajon, that essentially became a pipeline for undocumented workers hired to provide much-needed services at Trump properties.
“Some workers described Bedminster as their launchpad to buy homes and start businesses,” the Post noted of one Trump course. “Others remembered it as grueling labor under bosses who were demanding, even bigoted – and who at times used the workers’ illegal status against them.”
Despite all of this coverage, there appears to be little federal scrutiny of labor practices at Trump properties. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus recently criticized DHS (the same organization that Trump has been purging) for its failure to dig more deeply into the Trump Organization’s use of undocumented workers. It asked the federal government to protect workers laid off from the Trump properties by asking that they not be deported and that they be considered witnesses to potential crimes.
And what are the odds that DHS, an agency now firmly in the grasp of Stephen Miller and the president, will investigate properties owned by the president? Right. It’s just another reminder of the cloud of financial conflicts of interest that has hung over Trump’s presidency from the moment he was inaugurated.
Anibal Romero, an attorney based in Newark, New Jersey, who specializes in immigration and civil rights law, represents 37 people who were undocumented employees of Trump’s properties. He lauds his clients for having the courage to stand up to the president’s company, but he is concerned about the lack of federal engagement with their travails.
“I’m surprised at the obvious hypocrisy of Trump’s rhetoric demonizing immigrants while he profits from them at the same time,” Romero told me. “We need an investigation by state and federal authorities, including Congress.”
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”