An undocumented migrant who worked for Donald Trump's golf resort has spoken out against the President's anti-immigrant comments.
During more than five years as a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Victorina Morales has made Donald Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies.
When he visited as president, she was directed to wear a pin in the shape of the American flag adorned with a Secret Service logo.
Because of the “outstanding” support she has provided during Trump’s visits, Morales in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name.
Quite an achievement for an immigrant housekeeper living in the country without legal permission.
Morales’ journey from cultivating corn in rural Guatemala to fluffing pillows at an exclusive golf resort took her from the southwest border, where she said she crossed illegally in 1999, to the horse country of New Jersey, where she was hired at the Trump property in 2013 with documents she said were phony.
She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.
Sandra Diaz, 46, a native of Costa Rica who is now a legal resident of the United States, said she, too, was in the country without legal permission when she worked at Bedminster between 2010 and 2013.
The two women said they worked for years as part of a group of housekeeping, maintenance and landscaping employees at the golf club that included a number of workers in the country without legal permission, though they could not say precisely how many.
There is no evidence that Trump or Trump Organisation executives knew of their immigration status. But at least two supervisors at the club were aware of it, the women said, and took steps to help workers evade detection and keep their jobs.
“There are many people without papers,” said Diaz, who said she witnessed several people being hired whom she knew to be living in the country without legal permission.
Trump has made border security and the fight to protect jobs for Americans a cornerstone of his presidency, from the border wall he has pledged to build to the workplace raids and payroll audits that his administration has carried out.
During the presidential campaign, when the Trump International Hotel opened for business in Washington, Trump boasted that he had used an electronic verification system, E-Verify, to ensure that only those legally entitled to work were hired.
“We didn’t have one illegal immigrant on the job,” Trump said then.
But throughout his campaign and his administration, Morales, 45, has been reporting for work at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, where she is still on the payroll.
An employee of the golf course drives her and a group of others to work every day, she says, because it is known that they cannot legally obtain driver’s licenses.
But Morales said she has been hurt by Trump’s public comments since he became president, including equating Latin American immigrants with violent criminals.
It was that, she said, along with abusive comments from a supervisor at work about her intelligence and immigration status, that made her feel that she could no longer keep silent.
“We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” she said. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”
Morales and Diaz approached The New York Times through their New Jersey lawyer, Anibal Romero, who is representing them on immigration matters.
Morales said that she understood she could be fired or deported as a result of coming forward, though she has applied for protection under the asylum laws. She is also exploring a lawsuit claiming workplace abuse and discrimination.
In separate, hours-long interviews in Spanish, Morales and Diaz provided detailed accounts of their work at the club and their interactions with management, including Trump. Both women described the president as demanding but kind, sometimes offering hefty tips.
While they were often unclear on precise dates of when events occurred, they appeared to recollect key events and conversations with precision.
Morales has had dealings with Trump that go back years, and her husband has confirmed that she would on occasion come home jubilant because the club owner had paid her a compliment, or bestowed on her a $50 or sometimes a $100 tip.
To ascertain that she was in fact an employee of the club, The Times reviewed Morales’ pay stubs and W-2 forms, which list the golf course as her employer.
She also made available her Individual Taxpayer Identification, a nine-digit number that is issued by the IRS to foreigners to enable them to file taxes without being permanent residents of the United States. Having a number does not confer eligibility to work.
The Times also examined the documents Morales presented as proof that she was entitled to work — a permanent resident card, or green card, and a Social Security card, both of which she said she purchased from someone in New Jersey who produced counterfeit documents for immigrants.
The Times ran Morales’ purported Social Security number through several public records databases and none produced a match, which is often an indication that the number is not valid.
The number on the back of the green card that Morales has on file at the golf course does not correspond to the format of numbers used on most legitimate resident cards.
For example, it includes initials that do not match those of any immigration service centres that issue the cards.
Diaz produced similar documents, though since she has gained legal residence she has been issued a genuine Social Security card and green card.
The Trump Organisation, which owns the golf course, did not comment specifically on Morales or Diaz.
“We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices,” Amanda Miller, the company’s senior vice president for marketing and corporate communications, said in a statement.
“If an employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately.”
The White House declined to comment.
That Morales appeared able to secure employment with what she said were fake documents is not surprising: An estimated 8 million immigrants in the country without legal permission are in the labor force, and it is an open secret that many businesses, especially in the service sector, hire them.
Trump has a long history of relying on immigrants at his golf and hotel properties. Though he signed a “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in 2017 tightening the conditions for visas for foreign workers, his companies have hired hundreds of foreigners on guest-worker visas.
In hiring workers who are already in the United States, employers are required to examine identity and work authorisation documents and record them on an employment eligibility form.
But companies are not required in most cases to take additional steps to verify the authenticity of documents.
Because falsifying these documents is so easy, E-Verify, which is required in 22 states, goes the extra step of checking them against records kept by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.
The federal list posted online of employers who use the E-Verify system includes Trump’s golf club in North Carolina, a state that requires it, but the Bedminster club in New Jersey, where it is not required under state law, does not appear on the list.
During his campaign, Trump called for expanding the program to workplaces around the country. So far, that has not happened.
Cleaning Trump's toilet for $10
The job at Bedminster, at which Morales earns $13 an hour, is one of several she said she has held since arriving in the United States in 1999, crossing undetected into California after a journey of nearly six weeks by bus and on foot.
After she first arrived in Los Angeles, a contact provided her with a false Social Security number and an identification card that she was told would enable her to secure employment. She then flew to New Jersey, where she joined her husband, who had arrived months earlier.
In early 2013, a friend who worked at the Trump golf club told her that management was looking for housekeepers.
Morales was keen: The pay would be $10 an hour, higher than the $8.25 that she was earning cleaning guest rooms at a hotel.
According to her account, when she arrived for her interview, the housekeeping supervisor showed her around and asked her to demonstrate how she cleaned. The supervisor asked her to report to work the next morning at 6am — with her documents.
Morales said she told her she had no legal working documents. “I told her I don’t have good papers. She told me to bring what I used at the hotel,” Morales recalled.
When Morales joined the housekeeping team in 2013, Diaz was in charge of training her, and began to take her to tend to Trump’s house. In November of that year, when Diaz quit, Morales and the housekeeping supervisor took on the job of cleaning Trump’s house together.
Morales said she will never forget the day Trump pulled up to the pro shop in his cart as she was washing its large, arched windows. Noticing that Morales, who is shy of 5 feet tall, could not reach the top, he said, “Excuse me,” grabbed her rag and wiped the upper portion of the glass.
Trump then asked Morales her name and where she was from, she recalled. “I said, ‘I am from Guatemala.’ He said, ‘Guatemalans are hardworking people.'” The president then reached into his pocket and handed her a $50 bill.
“I told myself, ‘God bless him.’ I thought, he’s a good person,” Morales recalled.
Soon after Trump launched his campaign for the presidency, in June 2015, Morales recalled, one of the managers summoned her to tell her that she could no longer work inside Trump’s house.
Around the same time, she said, several workers, who she said were also working illegally, had their work days shaved from five days to three days. “The workers panicked. A lot of people just left,” she said.
Two months after Trump’s inauguration, in March 2017, Morales said that she and other workers received a new employee handbook.
Under a section titled “Immigration Compliance,” the handbook stated that employees were required to present documents specified by the federal government. “Those that are found to have falsified information will not be eligible for employment,” the handbook stated.
Likely to be lose job for speaking out
As the months went on, she and other employees at the golf club became increasingly disturbed about Trump’s comments, which they felt demeaned immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
The president’s tone seemed to embolden others to make negative comments, Morales said.
The housekeeping supervisor frequently made remarks about the employees’ vulnerable legal status when critiquing their work, she said, sometimes calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.
Morales expects she will have to leave her job as soon as her name and work status are made public. She understands she could be deported.
On Thursday, she spent the day with her lawyer, and as news of her disclosures spread, she did not answer a phone call from her supervisor at the golf course. She said she did not expect to return to work.
She said she is certain that her employers — perhaps even Trump — knew of her unlawful status all along.
“I ask myself, is it possible that this señor thinks we have papers? He knows we don’t speak English,” Morales said. “Why wouldn’t he figure it out?”