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Undocumented workers were recently fired from a Trump golf course. What happens now?

A Washington Post investigation found that a golf course owned by the Trump Organization employed about a dozen undocumented immigrants for years, firing them only recently and with no notice. After the news broke, Eric Trump announced the company would begin using E-Verify to confirm employees' legal status. David Fahrenthold, who co-wrote the Washington Post story, joins Yamiche Alcindor.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's hard-line stance on immigration has been a central tenet through his candidacy and presidency. But what happens when that clashes with his own financial interests?

    Recent news reports suggest that his business empire may have employed undocumented workers, some of them for years.

    Yamiche Alcindor begins there.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Last night, the president's son Eric Trump announced that the Trump Organization will begin using E-Verify. The system is used to check employment documents and weed out undocumented immigrants.

    Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that a Trump-owned golf club in New York fired about a dozen undocumented workers.

    David Fahrenthold is one of the reporters who broke that story. He joins me now.

    Thanks so much, David, for being here.

    You reported that some of these undocumented workers had been working for Trump-owned properties for years. Tell me a little bit more about these workers, and how did they go under the radar for so long?

  • David Fahrenthold:

    Well, these are folks that were originally mainly from Mexico, some of them from other countries in Latin America.

    And they had come to the U.S. mostly on foot, crossing the border on foot. They wound up at Trump's golf course north of New York City. Some of them had been there since the year 2000, 2001, others a little bit more recently, but all of them had been there for at least three years.

    And they were sort of the backbone of the blue-collar staff at this club. So, we're now talking about the wintertime staff. The club's staff decreases from a few dozen down to only about 20 in the winter. And these folks — there were 12 of them — kept on. So they — that's at least half of the entire wintertime staff of the club that turned out, upon further review, to be undocumented immigrants.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    I want to play a video of a woman named Margarita Cruz. She worked at the Trump Golf Club in New York for eight years. She said she was on the housekeeping staff.

    Let's just show people what she was talking about.

  • Margarita Cruz:

    For them to tell you from one day to another, you know what, this is over, and that is it, they change your life from one day to another without thinking. How can they be so cruel to us to simply say that it is over after so many years of employment?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    She's talking about cruelty, and she sounds distraught.

    How is she and other workers that have been laid off or fired now, how are they coping with this, and what do they want to happen next?

  • David Fahrenthold:

    Well, they feel sort of discarded.

    They — I mean, so let's make clear these people broke the law as well. They bought fraudulent immigration documents. They submitted them to the Trump Club. The Trump Club accepted them. But they thought they understood sort of this bargain. And this is a bargain that a lot of employers have, where the undocumented employees, they work really hard, they accept the lack of advancement, they don't get as many benefits as legal employees do.

    But, in return, they get steady work, and they get employers who don't ask questions. And that had been the way that the Trump Club worked for many, many years. So they felt very safe there.

    And then all of a sudden, for the Trump Club to say, wait, we didn't know these people were undocumented, they felt like that was hypocrisy.

    So now they're hoping that, by bringing more attention to themselves, by raising awareness about their case, both in the media and also on Capitol Hill, where they have been this week, that they can sort of protect themselves through publicity, that maybe they won't be deported now because ICE will fear the publicity of taking them away.

    They're also hoping — there are special categories of visas for folks who've been the victims of crimes or who are material witnesses in important investigations. They're hoping perhaps that they could be deemed to be one of those two categories by somebody as a result of coming forward, and then they might get legal status, at least for the course of an investigation.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    I want to take a step back.

    The president still owns his business, which includes 11 hotels around the world and 16 golf courses. What's your sense of how much the president and managers knew about these people's statuses? And how widespread do you think these firings have been?

  • David Fahrenthold:

    So, in terms of the question of where else does this happen, we don't know.

    We know about two clubs, Bedminster and Westchester, where illegal immigrants have been identified and fired in the last few weeks. There are a number of other Trump golf clubs that share sort of similar characteristics. They were not enrolled in E-Verify. They're along the U.S. East Coast.

    It seems possible that there could have been undocumented immigrants at those places as well. But we haven't actually managed to document any firings of those folks so far.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And one of the most striking things about the reporting that you did is that you have workers describing the president as giving them hundreds of dollars in tips, as being nice to them, even helping them clean windows when they can't reach at times. That was in other reporting.

    But you also have a president who just shut down the government for 35 days because of border wall funding and border security.

    How do you reconcile what the president really believes about immigration?

  • David Fahrenthold:

    You're right about that contrast.

    So these are — these folks — I mentioned earlier there was — there were definitely downsides to working as an illegal immigrant. They at the Trump Club felt like they had no chance to advance to management positions or better positions. They felt like they weren't paid as much and didn't get as many benefits.

    And they said, when President Trump got into the presidential race — and they saw that, like any of the rest of us did — he began by calling Mexicans rapists and saying they brought crime and drugs. When they saw that, they thought, well, how could he think that? How could he think that about us? We have worked for him for so long.

    But they said that one interesting after-effect of that was that nothing changed at that club. They were worried that, OK, now he's saying this in public as a political figure. He's going to crack down on us in the club. We're going to — things are going to change for us.

    And they said nothing changed. They said that people at the club considered it sort of a matter for things — for the outside world. Inside their world, nothing changed, until right now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And we only have about 30 seconds left, but I want to ask you about this change that we mentioned to E-Verify.

    What impact might that change to E-Verify have? And are there any consequences that you think the Trump Organization might face because they employed so many undocumented immigrants?

  • David Fahrenthold:

    It's hard to know if they will face legal consequences for what they have already done. The New Jersey attorney general is apparently investigating what happened at Bedminster. It's possible something will come out of that.

    The decision to switch to E-Verify and apparently to go to all legal workers next year could be tremendously costly for the Trump Organization. There's a reason people don't do E-Verify, which is legal workers usually cost more.

    And if they're going to go to E-Verify and use legal workers, new legal workers in many cases, for housekeeping, for groundskeeping, it's going to raise their labor costs tremendously at these clubs.

    And it's going to be interesting — interesting to see how that affects their business.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    OK.

    Well, thank you so much for joining us, David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a postscript.

    Late today, one of the workers fired from the Trump National Golf Club has been invited to attend the State of the Union address. Democratic Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey asked Victorina Morales to be her guest at the Capitol.

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