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Trump firm tacitly admits gaps in vetting worker status

The decision to use the E-Verify program is the first acknowledgment that Trump's private business has failed to check the work status of its employees, despite his claims otherwise during the 2016 campaign.

In this Tuesday, June 7, 2016 file photo, a photographer reflected in a golf cart at the the Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. A lawyer for a dozen workers at the club who are in the United States illegally says they were fired on Jan. 18, 2019, even though managers knew of their illegal status years earlier.
In this Tuesday, June 7, 2016 file photo, a photographer reflected in a golf cart at the the Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. A lawyer for a dozen workers at the club who are in the United States illegally says they were fired on Jan. 18, 2019, even though managers knew of their illegal status years earlier.Read moreMary Altaffer / AP

President Donald Trump's company plans to institute E-Verify, a federal program that allows employers to check whether new hires are legally eligible to work in the United States, in every one of its golf clubs, hotels and resorts, following a Washington Post report that its club in Westchester County, New York, employed undocumented immigrants for years.

"We are instituting E-Verify on all of our properties as soon as possible," Eric Trump, one of the president's sons and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said Tuesday. "We're starting with the golf properties, and we are going to be doing all of them."

The move is the first acknowledgment by the president's private business that it has failed to fully check the work status of all its employees, despite Trump's claims during the 2016 campaign that he used E-Verify across his properties. At the time, he called for the program to be mandatory for all employers.

The decision by the Trump Organization is not likely to head off calls for an investigation by congressional Democrats, who on Tuesday began gathering signatures for a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking a probe into whether the president's company broke the law by hiring undocumented workers.

The company's new embrace of E-Verify highlights the sharp disconnect between Trump's hard-line rhetoric on undocumented immigrants - including his dark warnings that they threaten the country's safety and steal American jobs - and what appears to have been a lax approach by his own business to checking the legal status of its workers.

The Post reported Saturday that about a dozen undocumented workers from Latin America employed by the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County - roughly half its wintertime staff - were fired amid new scrutiny of its hiring practices.

The purge followed what Eric Trump told The Post was "a broad effort to identify any employee who has given false and fraudulent documents to unlawfully gain employment."

Many of those fired had worked for the club for years, including an Ecuadoran maintenance worker who said he had been employed for nearly two decades. Several workers said that supervisors did not closely scrutinize their employment documents, and in at least one case, urged an employee to get better fake papers.

Another group of undocumented workers employed by Trump's golf course in New Jersey were also fired in recent weeks - including one woman who says a supervisor helped her procure fake documents.

Both clubs, like six other Trump golf courses, are not enrolled in the E-Verify system, according to a federal database that tracks employers who use it and confirmed by Eric Trump.

President Trump still owns his businesses, which include 16 golf courses and 11 hotels around the world. He has given day-to-day control of the businesses to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

In an interview with The Post on Tuesday, the president declined to answer why the Westchester County club employed undocumented workers and only recently fired them.

"This is why we have to fix our immigration system," Trump said in a phone interview. "I am a big proponent for allowing people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally."

The president did not respond directly when asked why he didn't use E-Verify widely at his properties.

As a candidate in 2016, Trump declared in a speech in Arizona: "We will ensure that E-Verify is used to the fullest extent possible under existing law, and we will work with Congress to strengthen and expand its use across the country."

The same year, Trump told MSNBC host Chris Matthews: "I'm using E-Verify on just about every job. . . . I'm using E-Verify, and I'll tell you, it works."

Once he took office, Trump's silence on a national E-Verify mandate disappointed some conservatives.

On Tuesday, Eric Trump told The Post that the company did not previously enroll all its resorts and golf course in E-Verify because the program is not required by law in most states, many competitors do not use it and the system is not foolproof.

Eric Trump said the Trump Organization relies on a third-party vendor, Hire Right, to conduct background checks at some of its properties, including at Ferry Point, the New York City-owned course in the Bronx that the Trump Organization operates. He said E-Verify is being used at its golf courses in Los Angeles; Doral, Florida; and Charlotte. (North Carolina law requires employers to check the legal status of most workers.)

The president's son said the rest of the Trump Organization properties are signing up for E-Verify but have been delayed by the partial government shutdown, a recently ended stall of 35 days over his father's demand for a border wall to keep out undocumented immigrants.

He denied that any Trump Organization officials had help workers obtain false papers.

Eric Trump said that some of the workers who have been fired worked for the Trumps for years and knew the family members personally.

"I must say, for me personally, this whole thing is truly heartbreaking," Trump said. "Our employees are like family, but when presented with fake documents, an employer has little choice."

"This situation is not unique to Trump Organization - it is one that all companies face," he added. "It demonstrates that our immigration system is severely broken and needs to be fixed immediately."

The federal employment verification system, which started more than 20 years ago, allows employers to enter the name and personal information of new hires into a system that matches the information against records held by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

It has proved effective at reducing the number of undocumented workers who are hired by U.S. employers. In Arizona, which pioneered the mandatory checks in 2008, the number of unauthorized workers dropped 33 percent below what was projected without the requirement, according to a 2017 analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

However, only 10 percent of U.S. employers are enrolled in E-Verify. Its use is voluntary in most states. Just eight states require nearly all employers to use the system: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

Federal immigration officials say E-Verify does not protect against identity theft if workers use someone else's Social Security information or other forms of identification, but the system provides "extra validation" for employers that the information being provided matches existing government records.

ClubCorp, the largest owner of private golf clubs in the country, with more than 200 courses and nearly 20,000 employees, has had companywide E-Verify since 2012.

The National Club Association, a trade group representing private clubs, encourages its members to use E-Verify because it is the "gold standard" of rigorous compliance, said Brad Steele, the association's vice president of government relations.

"We have long supported and recommended E-Verify to our clubs," Steele said.

Advocates for stricter border control said the discovery of undocumented immigrants working for the Trump Organization was a reminder of the need for mandatory E-Verify.

"It's not surprising because if you're in the hospitality business . . . the odds are pretty good there are some illegal aliens working for you," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington that supports tighter controls on immigration. "But the way you try to avoid that is by using E-Verify."

This week, several undocumented immigrants who were fired recently from Trump properties met with congressional Democrats, who began circulating a letter seeking an FBI investigation.

"I believe there's been violations of the law," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who wrote the letter after meeting with the workers Monday.

"The appropriate response to the violation of a federal law - whether it's civil in some instances or criminal in others" is to go to the FBI, Grijalva said.

He was joined by Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Tom Malinowski, both New Jersey Democrats, and Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat.

"I intend to, with others, urge the administration to treat these folks as what they are - material witnesses to what may have been a serious crime," said Malinowski, who met with the group on Monday. He said Trump's stated impetus for the government shutdown - a purported national crisis over illegal immigration - is the "height of hypocrisy" given his employment of undocumented workers.

"I don't use that phrase lightly, but this is the height," said Malinowski, whose district includes the Bedminster property. "This is what he shut down the government over."

Menendez said Tuesday in a Spanish-language gaggle with reporters after he met with the workers that "if the president maintains that there have to be consequences for others, there should be consequences for his organization, no?"

Trump Organization officials declined to comment on the calls for an FBI investigation.

Anibal Romero, an attorney for the workers, said the Trump Organization may have committed immigration, tax, Social Security and ERISA fraud and that "any attempt" to deport the workers "could be considered obstruction of justice."

"We're looking for protection," he said, adding that "any undocumented immigrant who has worked for Donald Trump and his properties could be considered a material witness in a federal case against the organization for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants."

Immigration hard-liners and Trump allies dismissed the notion that Trump's stance was hypocritical.

"It's hard for me to pass judgment on Trump," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a vocal opponent of illegal immigration. "He's got a lot going on. . . . I think the action they took was appropriate and I hope that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] was informed."

The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold, Michael Kranish, Nick Miroff and Josh Partlow contributed to this report.