‘Tired of the abuse’: the il­le­gal im­mi­grant who makes Don­ald Trump’s bed

Vic­to­rina Mo­rales used false pa­pers to se­cure job at Trump club in New Jersey

The Irish Times - - World News - Miriam Jor­dan

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’s 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 Or­ga­ni­za­tion 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.

Pres­i­dent’s villa

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 li­cences.

A diminu­tive woman with only two years of ed­u­ca­tion who came to the United States speak­ing no English, Mo­rales has had an un­usual win­dow into one of the pres­i­dent’s favourite re­treats.

She has cleaned the pres­i­dent’s villa while he watched tele­vi­sion nearby; she stood on the side­lines when po­ten­tial cab­i­net mem­bers were brought in for in­ter­views and when the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, ar­rived to con­fer with the pres­i­dent.

“I never imag­ined, as an im­mi­grant from the coun­try­side in Gu­atemala, that I would see such im­por­tant peo­ple close up,” she said.

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.

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.

Fake doc­u­ments

The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion, 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 eight mil­lion im­mi­grants in the US with­out le­gal per­mis­sion are in the labour 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.

Trump opened his tro­phy club in the af­flu­ent horse coun­try of Som­er­set County, New Jersey, in 2004.

Af­ter buy­ing the 204-hectare (504-acre) prop­erty from a group of in­vestors in 2002, Trump planted a sweep­ing colon­nade of maple trees at the en­trance and built two 18-hole golf cour­ses, their de­sign in­spired by the gar­dens of Ver­sailles. The mem­ber­ship ini­ti­a­tion fee is more than $100,000 (¤88,000).

The prop­erty has an es­ti­mated 40 to 80 em­ploy­ees, de­pend­ing on the sea­son; the bulk of the ba­sic ser­vice work­ers are for­eign-born. Im­mi­grants keep the greens wa­tered and man­i­cured. They clean and main­tain the cot­tages and suites that sur­round the junior Olympic-size heated pool.

The pres­i­dent has spent all or part of about 70 days at Bed­min­ster since tak­ing of­fice. He has a two-story res­i­dence on the prop­erty; his daugh­ter Ivanka Trump and her hus­band, Jared Kush­ner, were mar­ried at the club in 2009, and also have a cot­tage.

The job at Bed­min­ster, at which Mo­rales earns $13 (¤11.40) 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.

By the time Mo­rales was hired by the Trump golf club, Diaz had been work­ing there since 2010 and had the job of clean­ing Trump’s res­i­dence. She said she washed and ironed Trump’s white box­ers, golf shirts and khaki trousers, as well as his sheets and tow­els. Ev­ery­thing be­long­ing to Trump, his wife, Me­la­nia, and their son, Bar­ron, was washed with spe­cial de­ter­gent in a smaller, sep­a­rate wash­ing ma­chine, she said.

“He is ex­tremely metic­u­lous about ev­ery­thing. If he ar­rives sud­denly, ev­ery­one runs around like crazy” be­cause Don­ald Trump in­spects ev­ery­thing closely, Diaz said.

She re­called a ner­vous mo­ment in 2012, when Trump ap­proached her and asked her to fol­low him to the club­house, a ren­o­vated 1930s Ge­or­gian manor, where he pro­ceeded to run his fin­gers around the edges of frames on the wall and over ta­ble sur­faces to check for dust.

Orange stains

“You did a re­ally great job,” she said he told her, and handed her a $100 bill. That same year, she said, Trump had an out­burst over some orange stains on the col­lar of his white golf shirt, which Diaz de­scribed as stub­born rem­nants of his makeup, which she had dif­fi­culty re­mov­ing.

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.

Now that Trump was pres­i­dent, there was more than the usual ex­cite­ment when­ever he ar­rived. Mo­rales was still asked to clean Trump’s res­i­dence on oc­ca­sion, and had to wear a Se­cret Ser­vice pin when­ever the pres­i­dent was on site, she said, most likely iden­ti­fy­ing her as an em­ployee, though the pins did not mean em­ploy­ees had a se­cu­rity clear­ance.

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.

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?” – New York Times

‘‘ I ask my­self, is it pos­si­ble that this señor thinks we have pa­pers? He knows we don’t speak English

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CHRISTO­PHER GRE­GORY/NEW YORK TIMES

Vic­to­rina Mo­rales at her home in Bound Brook, New Jersey. “We are tired of the abuse, the in­sults...”

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