Donald Trump’s luxury golf development in New York’s upscale Westchester County tried to obtain permanent work certifications for a trio of South American immigrants who came into the country illegally, records show.
At the time, Trump Briarcliff Manor Development LLC already was employing the Ecuadorean workers as stonemasons. Despite the Trump campaign’s hard-line stance against immigrants in the U.S. illegally, his development company acknowledged in its government applications for the certifications that the three had an immigration status of “EWI,” or “entry without inspection.”
“It means that you snuck across,” said Kevin Miner, co-chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Labor Department liaison committee. “You hid in the trunk of a car or climbed a fence or swam a river.”
The company claimed in its applications that no qualified U.S. citizens wanted the positions in 2010, though unemployment in the construction industry was at historic highs.
As its official representative on the applications, Trump’s development firm used a lawyer flagged by the U.S. Department of Labor for being involved in immigration fraud, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor boasts a 101-foot waterfall by the 13th hole – the “most expensive golf hole ever constructed” at $7 million, according to the club. “Donald Trump has spared no expense in creating this world-class facility,” adds the club’s website.
Trump himself reported $9.5 million in income from the club during a year-and-a-half period on his personal financial disclosure filing for his presidential campaign.
But when it came to stonework, the development company stated in its applications that it was planning to pay the immigrants under $14 an hour.
Stonemasons have long been in short supply, but that wage is “extremely low,” said Joe Hogan, vice president of building services for Associated General Contractors of New York State.
“No stonemason worth his salt in the U.S., there’s no way they would take it for that amount,” he said.
Neither Trump’s campaign nor The Trump Organization responded to inquiries. Victor Pizarro, the attorney listed as the company’s representative, said he didn’t remember working for any Trump entity, but he said the immigration work he was involved in was “done properly.”
Prairie Wells, spokeswoman for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, characterized the company’s maneuver as a clear attempt to exploit vulnerable immigrants and undercut American wages.
“It’s disgusting,” she said.
As a presidential candidate, Trump has faced scrutiny for his frequent use of temporary visas to bring in foreigners for positions at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and other posh locations. Trump has defended the practice, claiming that American workers were scarce during peak seasons. He’s also said temporary visas are fine, “but they have to come in legally.”
Trump has been vocal on social media in assailing immigrants who enter the country illegally.
We must stop the crime and killing machine that is illegal immigration. Rampant problems will only get worse. Take back our country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2015
He also has slammed opponents for being weak on illegal immigration.
Ted Cruz only talks tough on immigration now because he did so badly in S.C. He is in favor of amnesty and weak on illegal immigration.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 23, 2016
And Trump’s backers say they’re drawn to his aggressive stance on “illegals,” as Reveal delved into in a recent episode on his supporters.
Trump’s campaign calls for reforming the temporary visa process by requiring employers to hire American workers first: “We need companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed. Petitions for workers should be mailed to the unemployment office, not USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).”
The labor certifications Trump’s company sought for the Ecuadorean stonemasons are different than those previously reported by the media because they are permanent, not temporary. To protect American workers, employers must vow that they advertised the job opening and couldn’t find any qualified, willing and able U.S. citizens.
The golf development company’s applications from March 2010 say the jobs were advertised in the local newspaper twice in December 2009.
The construction industry was then in the midst of the “longest and deepest downturn of any industry,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist of Associated General Contractors of America. That February, the construction unemployment rate was 27.1 percent – the highest since the government began calculating the number in 2000, he said, and nearly two and a half times the unemployment figure for the overall private sector.
Even during the downturn, though, stonemasons could have been hard to find, said Hogan, of New York’s contractors association. The population of skilled masons has been in decline for many years, as experienced workers age and fewer young people take up the trade.
“It would not surprise me at all to see a need to bring stonemasons from somewhere else in the world because of the shortage,” Hogan said.
Wells, of the bricklayers union, doesn’t buy it. It was a crushing time for construction workers, she said.
“People lost their homes, families went hungry,” she said. “There’s no way that the argument can be reasonably made that there was nobody to do the work. It’s completely ridiculous.”
In the permanent certification applications, Trump’s development company proposed to pay the Ecuadorean workers $13.83 an hour for positions requiring one year of experience. That rate had been approved by the Department of Labor as a “prevailing wage.”
The union and contractor’s association agree that was well below the going rate for stonemasons.
“That’s even low for an undocumented worker,” said Michael Clifford, president of the bricklayers union local that covers Westchester County.
By contrast, a first-year apprentice on a government-funded construction project would have made around $30 per hour at the time, including benefits, and an experienced mason made double that, Wells said. The Ecuadorean laborers all had several years of experience as stonemasons in South America, according to the Labor Department records.
The applications, however, ran into trouble. The Labor Department notified Trump’s company in 2011 that Pizarro, its official representative on the paperwork, was “permanently barred from operating any immigration service business in the state of New York … for having engaged in fraudulent and illegal business practices.”
Pizarro worked for Mision Hispana, one of several immigration companies shut down for fraud in 2010 by the New York attorney general shortly after the applications were filed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, then attorney general, accused Mision Hispana of misleading immigrants, giving legal advice without authorization and charging fees for work done by nonattorneys.
“These companies took money from immigrants by promising to provide services that they could not deliver,” Cuomo said in a statement at the time. “The fraudulent practices of these companies caused innocent people to face problems with their immigration status, even deportation.”
A $250,000 settlement required Mision Hispana, based in Queens, to immediately stop providing immigration services. By then, Pizarro’s applications for Trump’s company were already in process.
“I didn’t do the applications,” said Pizarro, now 72 and retired. Mision Hispana would put his name on the paperwork, he said, because he’s an attorney.
Immigrants, mostly those in the country without legal permission, would pay Mision Hispana, and Pizarro would handle any court appointments that came up, he said. He considered the Latino immigrants, not the employers, his clients, he said.
Mision Hispana got in trouble, Pizarro said, because the woman who ran it was giving legal advice even though she wasn’t a lawyer. He said he retired as soon as it was shut down, but remains an attorney in good standing.
“I don’t believe I’m in trouble for doing anything improperly,” he said.
Two of the Trump applications were targeted by the Department of Labor for “supervised recruitment,” a rare move that requires the employer to advertise for the position again, with close scrutiny from regulators. Under that supervision, job seekers send their applications directly to the Labor Department so its officials can decide independently if there are U.S. citizens willing and able to do the job.
Such a move indicates that the Labor Department doubts the employer’s claims, said Miner, the immigration attorney.
Regulators also subjected the Trump applications to an audit, stating: “The U.S. Department of Labor is unable to determine if potentially qualified U.S. workers who applied for the job opportunity were rejected for lawful, job-related reasons.” The audit requires paperwork proving that the company advertised the jobs adequately and considered local applicants fairly. Trump’s company didn’t respond within the required time frame, resulting in denials of the applications in 2012.
“Not responding to an audit is a bad thing,” Miner said. “You still have to show that you acted in good faith.”
It’s unclear why Trump’s company even applied in the first place. The end goal of a permanent labor certification is a green card. But Miner said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services won’t approve one for workers who entered illegally except in very rare circumstances.
It wasn’t the first time Trump’s company tried to get permanent status for immigrants working at his golf club, either. In 2006, the company applied for five masons, from Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, also using Pizarro and Mision Hispana as its representative. Those workers also were employed already by Trump’s firm; none of the applications disclosed whether they had entered the country legally.
The Labor Department initially denied all of those earlier applications. One was overturned on appeal, and that Guatemalan mason became certified in 2009. He was offered $22.05 per hour for a position requiring four years of experience.
Trump had more success getting papers for higher-level positions, Labor Department records show. The Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago was approved for an Austrian hotel executive at a $130,000 annual salary, and its New York location certified an engineering manager from India at $41.74 per hour.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.