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Meet Victorina Morales, an Undocumented Immigrant Who Spent Five Years as Trump’s Housekeeper

StoryFebruary 07, 2019
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Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is calling on the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to investigate whether employees at Trump National Golf Club broke the law by helping undocumented employees obtain fake work papers amid news reports that the Trump company has fired at least 18 undocumented workers from five golf courses in New York and New Jersey in the past two months. On Monday, Menendez called on the federal government to allow former undocumented employees of the Trump properties to remain in the country while the investigation proceeds. We speak with an undocumented housekeeper from Guatemala named Victorina Morales, who helped expose what was happening on the Trump properties by speaking on the record to The New York Times. Morales spent years making Donald Trump’s bed and performing other duties at his New Jersey club, even though she was undocumented. She attended the State of the Union as a guest of Democratic Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey. We speak with Morales, Watson Coleman and Morales’s lawyer, Anibal Romero.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is calling on the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to investigate whether employees at Trump National Golf Club broke the law by helping undocumented employees obtain fake work papers. On Monday, Senator Menendez called on the federal government to allow former undocumented employees of the Trump properties to remain in the country while the investigation proceeds.

This comes amid news reports that the Trump company has fired at least 18 undocumented workers from five golf courses in New York and New Jersey in the past two months, part of a purge set in motion after a series of reports about the clubs’ employment of workers without legal status.

AMY GOODMAN: In December, an undocumented housekeeper from Guatemala named Victorina Morales helped expose what was happening on the Trump properties, by speaking on record to The New York Times. Morales spent years making Donald Trump’s bed and performing other duties at his New Jersey club, even though she was undocumented.

Well, on Tuesday, Morales had a chance to see her former boss in person, when she attended the State of the Union, where Trump railed against undocumented immigrants, claiming, quote, “large organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” unquote, and incorrectly suggested undocumented immigrants threaten the economic well-being of other Americans. Victorina Morales attended the State of the Union as a guest of New Jersey Democratic Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman.

I spoke to both of them on Wednesday. I began by asking Congresswoman Watson Coleman why she brought Victorina to the State of the Union.

REP. BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN: Number one is, she really is the honest face of immigrants. She is the hard-working, trustworthy, just wanting a better life for her family, not causing any trouble, paying her taxes, becoming a part of the community and just doing her job. And this is the real face, I believe, of immigrants, and even illegal immigrants, seeking asylum or seeking a better way of life here in the United States of America; contrasting that to what the president has said, that we should fear illegal immigration, that we need to build a wall to keep them out, to keep us safe, and laid upon lies as to who they are and what they are.

And it shows the hypocrisy of Donald Trump the president and Donald Trump the entrepreneur, because the entrepreneur not only hired undocumented immigrants, his organization found them documents that would be used to put into their file so that they could work there. And it wasn’t until after he became a nominee for president that they decided that the documents that they had already had on behalf of these workers wasn’t sufficient, so they arranged for them to get even new fraudulent documents that would look better—but were still fraudulent. And so, he had this environment where he hired illegal immigrants. He gave them no benefits. He did not pay them good salaries. And the environment there was so hostile that when they complained about anything, they were basically told to “shut up, or you’ll get into trouble.” So, it just documents the hypocrisy of the Donald Trump that’s president and the Donald Trump that still holds his interests in his businesses.

AMY GOODMAN: Victorina Morales, what was it like to be sitting there last night at the State of the Union address, seeing your former boss, President Trump, talking about undocumented immigrants?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] He’s a total hypocrite. It’s a hypocrisy, because he always talks badly about immigrants. We accept that he is a horrible person. He’s very aggressive concerning us. And I ask God that at least the Congress people listen to us. We are raising our voice. I thank them for that. In this country, there are many good people. There are many people who love us. There are many people who are helping us.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us your story, Victorina? Tell us how you came to work at the Bedminster golf course of President Trump, to clean his room, to make his bed.

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] OK. I came in 2013 to work in that place. At the beginning, when he was not president, we saw him as a good person. He even tipped me three times. And I made his bed. I washed his—cleaned up his hotels. I made the bed of the first lady and Barron’s bed, who’s his son. I cleaned Ivanka’s house.

And when he became president, that’s when I saw his second face. He’s a hypocrite, because, there, we discovered his second face. He started talking badly about immigrants. That’s why I’m here, showing my face, because he says that we’re liars, that we’re rapists, thieves. And if it had been the case, I wouldn’t be here. I worked for him for five years. And he doesn’t value the work of immigrants.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your decision, Victorina, in December, to come forward to The New York Times.

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] The decision is that I got tired of abuse, and including there was a supervisor there who treated us—called us stupid, said that we were donkeys. She compared me with her dog. She said that her dog understood better English than we did. And three times, they pushed me. They were trying to hit me. And that’s why I said, “No, I’ve had enough.” So I raised my voice. My lawyer heard me. And now you’re listening to me, so my voice is being extended. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening to me. I’m an immigrant. I am undocumented. I am very poor.

AMY GOODMAN: Victorina, can you describe what the working conditions were like at the Bedminster golf club, before President Trump ran for president and then when he was running, as well as the time he was president? Did they change?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] When he became president, that’s when I saw that supervisors—we saw how he was talking about us on TV. And that’s why I thought that the supervisors there started treating us badly. They called us stupid, stupid immigrants. And they were using the same words he was using. They didn’t have the education to treat us well, to respect us. He doesn’t even respect himself. And, of course, he doesn’t respect us immigrants. So, but thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Trump, President Trump’s son, tweeted this week, “We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices. If any employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately. We take this issue very seriously. This is one of the reasons my father is fighting so hard for immigration reform. The system is broken,” Eric Trump said. Can you respond to this, Victorina?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] They don’t know—we have a proverb in Guatemala: You cannot hide the sun with a finger. They are lying. But we’re here, showing our face in front of everything they’re saying. It’s a lie. I’m an immigrant. I made my false documents right there.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, if you could explain what you mean when you said, “I did the paperwork”? Are you contending that it was the Trump Organization, President Trump’s business, that helped you to falsify papers?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] Yes, of course, the supervisor helped me. He told me that I had to do the papers over again and that I had to make a new ID in order to be able to keep working there. His cousin took me to a place near Bound Brook, and they made my false papers there. The supervisor took the picture. He took the picture in the laundry place. And he asked me for $175. And he told me, when he gave me the documents, “Hide them, because if the police sees them, they can arrest you.”

So, this is the truth. This is what happened. We cannot go on lying. They say that we’re lying, that we’re thieves, rapists. But, no, we are here to work. And they know that, because we were their employees. And that’s why I don’t tire myself of saying that they are hypocrites, that they are lying. They are the liars.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people would you estimate at Bedminster were undocumented? How many of the people who worked for Donald Trump?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] When the news came out in December, I stopped going to work, because I was the one who gave this news. I was tired of being abused. I said, “Enough. Enough of listening to him on the TV, and see how he treats us as immigrants.” I said, “No, I’m going to speak out. I’m going to come forward. And I’m going to say that he’s a liar. And that’s why I’m here, showing my face, so that he sees that we’re not liars. I am saying the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you receive a certificate from the White House for doing outstanding work for the president, cleaning his room?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] Yes, I did. Yes. I have the certificate. It’s a document they gave me for having done the best work at the club, golf club, of the president. Yes, I got that certificate.

AMY GOODMAN: You heard president Trump talking about invaders coming in from over the border and his demand to build a wall over the border. What are your thoughts?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] Yes, what I think is that he should stop talking about the wall and that people come forward, because there are many people working for him. He has five clubs. And they are undocumented.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think about Eric Trump saying, you know, some people just don’t have papers, and where this happens in an organization that has thousands of workers? How high up do you think the knowledge of your not having documents and others not having documents went in Bedminster?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] Yes, that information went very high, because many people are coming forward. I was undocumented, and I was working there. And now there are many people who are being fired who were undocumented and who were working for him, because there are five clubs who have been firing people.

AMY GOODMAN: Victorina Morales, can you talk about when you came to the United States and why you left Guatemala and how you made your way here?

VICTORINA MORALES: [translated] I came in 1999 from Guatemala. I was with my parents there. I was 7 years old when my father got killed. And then I got married. My husband came in 1999 to this country. And a year after he was here, he sent for me. After we sent money, we made a house. And then they killed my father-in-law in front of my children. But when I came to this country, it was 1999. And when I started working in Bedminster for the president, ’til now, in 2013, ’til 2018, when I raised my voice because I got tired.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to turn back to Bonnie Watson Coleman, the congressmember from New Jersey who invited Victorina Morales to the State of the Union address. As you listen to Victorina’s story, one that you know well now, what are you calling for? Fellow New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez says that they will launch an investigation into the Trump Organization’s employment practices. What are you doing in the House?

REP. BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN: Well, first of all, we have the same letter to the FBI, seeking the same investigation, because there are many employment violations and other hostile work environment situations, other illegal situations regarding the procuring of fraudulent documents.

Victorina, right now, is an applicant for asylum. I don’t know that she told you that. So, she’s also a material witness. And we think that those issues will protect her from being deported or detained or anything of that nature.

But this is not an isolated incident in the Trump enterprises. They knew what they were doing. They facilitated people getting—who were not documented, getting fraudulent documents to put in the file. So, it doesn’t matter what an Eric Trump or anybody else says right now. They very well knew, and they are lying if they’re suggesting in any other way. There are more than 20 people who have already been identified in the same situation as Victorina, and there are probably many more, my understanding, to be identified.

This is a pattern and practice of illegal employment activity, of creating a hostile work environment. But even more than that, this is an illustration of using good, decent, hard-working, honest people as pawns for a wall on the border that will serve no good interest, no service interest. And this is a justification for having shut down government for five weeks and deprived 800,000 people of their paychecks. This is just an illustration of the corrupt environment in which this administration is functioning.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s New Jersey Congressmember Bonnie Watson Coleman and Victorina Morales, an undocumented immigrant who worked for five years as a housekeeper for Donald Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. After a short break, we’ll be joined by Victorina’s attorney, Anibal Romero. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Our Hell” by Emily Haines. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We just heard from Victorina Morales, an undocumented housekeeper from Guatemala who spent years making Donald Trump’s bed and performing other duties at his New Jersey golf club as an undocumented immigrant. Morales has risked her own deportation to publicly accuse employees at Trump National Golf Club of breaking the law by helping undocumented employees obtain fake work papers.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Anibal Romero, an immigration attorney representing a number of undocumented workers at the Trump National Golf Course, including Victorina Morales.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ANIBAL ROMERO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens now? And what are you doing?

ANIBAL ROMERO: Sure. So, we have been in contact with the FBI. We have been in contact with New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. And New York state authorities, they’re also contacting me. I now represent 25 ex-employees of the Trump National Golf Club in four different cities. It’s my understanding that employees at five golf clubs have been let go. And there’s a difference between permanent employees and temporary employees. The golf season ends in November. And it’s my understanding that many, many employees who are undocumented will not be returning to work next year.

AMY GOODMAN: So they were seasonal, hundreds of them, and then they return.

ANIBAL ROMERO: That is what my clients are telling me, that at each golf club, half of the staff—approximately half of the staff was undocumented. And most of the people I have spoken to—I have 25 clients, but I’ve spoken to more than 30—say, basically, the way you get the job there is by—someone brings you in, and you’re told to go purchase fraudulent documents. In some cases, they were told that if they didn’t find someone, they would help them find that person to buy these fraudulent documents. And then you started working there. And this isn’t something that started a couple of days ago. I’ve seen pay stubs as far as 2001.

Many of these employees were the most trusted employees of the Trump family. Victorina Morales worked directly for the president and for Ms. Ivanka Trump. In the case of two other employees, one in Hudson Valley, apparently he worked directly for Mr. Eric Trump, and I have another employee in Westchester who also had the keys to Mr. Eric Trump’s house. These people had been there for over 15, 16, 17 years. And during the government shutdown, they decide to let them go, because Victorina Morales spoke in December.

AMY GOODMAN: To The New York Times.


AMY GOODMAN: So, can these people be deported?

ANIBAL ROMERO: Technically, yes. However, at this point, what we are saying is that each one of them, anyone who has worked for the Trump Organization as an undocumented immigrant, is a material witness of a federal conspiracy, a multistate federal conspiracy. And any attempt to try to remove them from the United States could be obstruction of justice.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But what do you say to, I mean, Eric Trump and others who have denied any knowledge? They say they don’t know that they—they don’t know that they were undocumented. And also, why did they get them papers? Because there are a lot of undocumented people who work without having fake work papers. Why did the Trump Organization do that?

ANIBAL ROMERO: Sure. So, what I would say is that my clients are saying that supervisors knew, managers knew, the general managers knew. Now, whether President Trump himself knew or Eric Trump knew, I’m not sure. I’m assuming that investigators can ask questions, and we will get to the bottom of this.

And why they were asking for documents, I’m not sure. I know there are a lot of undocumented immigrants who earn cash. In this case, I’ve seen business records. I’ve seen W-2s. And here’s something important: When you look at these pay stubs, none of the undocumented immigrants had health insurance. And according what they are saying, is that health insurance was offered to other employees who were American citizens or legal permanent residents. And I ask the question: If none of the undocumented immigrants had health insurance or a 401(k) plan, why? Because they knew that they were undocumented, and undocumented immigrants are not eligible for health insurance.

AMY GOODMAN: And they’re much more vulnerable to threats. As Victorina said, she would be threatened with deportation.

ANIBAL ROMERO: Yes. For years, she was told that she could be deported if she spoke out. And on a number of occasions, she was physically assaulted by her supervisor. My other client, Sandra Diaz, saw how other housekeepers were assaulted. They took this up to the general manager, and they decided to do nothing. And they would always say, “Well, this is a private golf club. No one’s going to come in. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s going to be OK.”

AMY GOODMAN: Sandra Diaz also went to the State of the Union address.

ANIBAL ROMERO: Yes, we were there.

AMY GOODMAN: And she has since become documented. But Victorina is applying for asylum?

ANIBAL ROMERO: Yes. She has a very compelling asylum case. We are waiting for a hearing. And we expect that she will be granted asylum and, in one year, she will be a legal permanent resident. But there are 24 others—23 other clients who, at this point, are vulnerable. And they are telling me that the temporary employees are terrified that they could get deported. And they’re talking about numbers in the hundreds.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to Eric Trump saying, “We have thousands and thousands of workers. We can’t know this stuff”?

ANIBAL ROMERO: Sure. Well, no, that’s not the case at the golf club. The golf club roughly has about a hundred employees. And what the workers are telling me, half of them were undocumented in Westchester. And I would say the same for Bedminster. I understand the organization might have thousands, but the golf clubs themselves, each one of them, that operates independently, has roughly about a hundred employees. So we’re talking about 500 employees in five golf clubs; half of them are undocumented, possibly, according to what clients are telling me. And we haven’t heard from other golf clubs in other parts of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress is doing an investigation?

ANIBAL ROMERO: Yes. We were there last week. We met with members of the House. We met with the senator, Booker, from New Jersey and also Senator Menendez. I believe they are circulating a letter requesting not only a thorough investigation by the FBI, Homeland Security investigations, but also protections for these workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Anibal Romero, we want to thank you for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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