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April 21, 2019

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Worker in US illegally says Trump club took her off a vetting list

Immigrant at Trump club

Christopher Gregory / The New York Times

Emma Torres, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who worked at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., in Gladstone, N.J., Dec. 10, 2018. Torres said that her name was removed from a list of workers to be vetted by the Secret Service after she reminded management that she was unlawfully in the United States.

A former employee of the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey said that her name was removed from a list of workers to be vetted by the Secret Service after she reminded management that she was unlawfully in the United States, the latest worker to assert that supervisors at the elite resort were aware that some members of their workforce were living in the country illegally.

The Bedminster golf club has recently terminated several workers who were determined to be ineligible to work in the country, according to several people familiar with the matter, after a New York Times report that revealed that immigrants who presented false documents were knowingly kept on the payroll, sometimes for years.

A lawyer representing the women has met with investigators from the New Jersey attorney general’s office and the FBI, presenting what he said was evidence that managers at the golf club knew that some workers were in the country illegally, and that at least one supervisor helped an employee obtain forged working documents.

In the latest revelation, Emma Torres, an immigrant from Ecuador who prepared food at the club, said that members of the kitchen staff were asked in 2016, as Donald Trump was in the midst of his campaign for the White House, to write their names, addresses and other details, including their Social Security numbers, on a list of employees that would be submitted to the Secret Service for clearance.

The golf club has been a favorite place for vacation and business meetings for Trump.

“When I learned this is for the Secret Service to see the records of everyone because they are giving protection to Mr. Trump, I rushed to human resources,” Torres said in an interview. “I thought, God, what will I do?” Torres said she had used a fake Social Security number when she applied for her job.

She said that she told a human resources employee, whose name she does not know, that she did not have legal status. She said that the woman replied, “‘It’s OK. No problem.’ She scratched me off the list.”

The woman then asked Torres for names of other kitchen workers who might be in the country illegally, which Torres said she provided.

There is no evidence that Trump knew of the unlawful status of employees at the club. But halting illegal immigration, by stanching the influx across the border, and deporting immigrants living inside the country have been core priorities of his administration. Trump has demanded $5 billion in funding to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to help block the flow of immigrants, leading to a stalemate with Democrats that has resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.

In a statement to the Times on Dec. 7, the Trump Organization, which owns the New Jersey golf club, pledged to terminate any workers it found to have been hired using fraudulent documents, which are typically a made-up Social Security number and green card.

Managers at the golf club and at Trump International did not respond to requests for comment on Torres’ account. A Secret Service spokeswoman, Cathy L. Milhoan, said she could not discuss what measures the agency took to vet employees at the golf club. “The U.S. Secret Service does not comment on our protective operations to include the administration of our name check program,” she said in a statement.

Torres said she believes the workers she identified to management also had their names removed from the list given to the Secret Service, but all of them, she said, remained on staff at the resort.

At least one other employee at the resort, Victorina Morales, a native of Guatemala who had been illegally in the United States since 1999, said she was given a Secret Service pin to wear when the president was in residence at the club. Secret Service officials said the pin did not signify that she had passed any security clearance.

Torres, 43, said she was hired to work at the resort in early 2015 using a falsified Social Security number and permanent resident card. She had informed a manager during her job interview that both were phony, she said, and the documents were photocopied for club files when she started working there.

Trump had praised her work and tipped her when she was in housekeeping, Torres recalled. But she and other former employees who have spoken with The Times said they grew increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s derogatory comments about immigrants during his campaign. “When he won the election, fear took over me,” Torres said. “I felt I was in the lion’s den. I had to leave.”

Torres quit in early 2017, after finding another job.

Since The Times’ initial report that the golf club employed immigrants who were in the country illegally, three additional immigrants have come forward, saying that they used fraudulent documents to secure jobs there and that management was aware of their status.

Morales was still working at the club when The Times published its report, but has not returned to work since. She said that when her initial fraudulent green card expired, a manager at the club arranged for her to be driven to a place where she could obtain new counterfeit documents. She said he lent her money to purchase them.

Since the article was published, the Trump Organization has been quietly scrambling to bring its golf club workforce into compliance, according to former employees who have been in contact with colleagues at the club. Checking whether employees are authorized to work in the United States has resulted in the termination of about a dozen people, according to these workers and another source familiar with the organization’s workings, though management at the club has not confirmed their accounts.