clock menu more-arrow no yes
Victorina Morales in her New Jersey home on February 2, 2019.
Edwin J. Torres for Vox

“I found my voice”: undocumented worker from Trump golf club will attend the State of the Union

Victorina Morales wants the president to look her in the face when he talks about building a border wall.

President Donald Trump will almost certainly bring up the issue of illegal immigration during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. When he does, Victorina Morales, a former employee, will be in the audience watching.

The 45-year-old immigrant from Guatemala worked for more than five years as a housekeeper at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. She is also undocumented.

Morales washed Trump’s clothes, made his bed, and scrubbed toilets at the private villa where he stays. She continued working there even after he won the presidency and he ramped up his rhetoric about immigrants like her, blaming them for rampant crime, job losses, and a host of other social problems.

In December, Morales made headlines when she went public with her story in the New York Times. She described the verbal abuse and humiliation she and other undocumented workers experienced on the job, and said her supervisors knew about their immigration status. The club is part of the president’s real estate company, the Trump Organization, which he still owns. The company denies that supervisors at the club knowingly hired unauthorized immigrants.

Morales never resumed working at the club after going public with her story and has spent the past two months advocating for immigration reform. Since she came forward, the club has fired about 20 other undocumented immigrants who worked there. She and three former co-workers at Trump’s club, who are also undocumented, met last week with New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, both Democrats, asking them to investigate the Trump Organization’s hiring practices and to shield immigrants who worked there from potential retaliation and deportation.

Morales recently told me that she’s “relieved” to no longer work for Trump. She’s now speaking out against Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, she says, and wants the president to acknowledge that the US economy depends on undocumented workers like herself — the same workers his own company relies on.

A “certificate of appreciation” on behalf of the White House for Morales’s outstanding work, dated July 22, 2018.

That’s one reason Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) invited Morales to attend the State of the Union as her guest. Watson Coleman’s district includes the town of Bound Brook, a working-class community where Morales lives with her husband and three sons.

Watson Coleman said she wants Trump to look Morales in the face when he claims that undocumented immigrants like her are endangering the country.

“I hope that in his State of the Union address, Donald Trump will finally acknowledge the real face of immigrants in this country — women and children fleeing violence, law-abiding, tax-paying people who would do almost anything to be Americans,” Watson Coleman said in a statement. “And if he can’t, I’ve invited Victorina so that he may look her in her eyes to tell his lies to a familiar face.”

I recently spoke with Morales about her decision to attend the speech, and what she thinks Trump doesn’t understand about immigration policy. I wanted to know if she regretted coming forward to reveal her undocumented status, if she was nervous about seeing Trump, and if the hardships she’s endured — the 1,000-plus-mile journey through Mexico and across the US border — were worth it.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation, translated from the original Spanish, follows.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Were you surprised when [Rep. Coleman Watson] invited you to join her at the State of the Union?

Victorina Morales

I was so honored. I am proud that I get to be there, honestly, and that I’ll get another chance to talk to members of Congress about our story. [To tell them] what it’s like to be here without papers and why we need immigration reform.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

It must have been terrifying to go public with your story and admit your legal status. What was it like?

Victorina Morales

It was a really hard decision. I don’t think people understand how scary it is for us [undocumented immigrants] to talk about it. We live our lives in hiding, always afraid to come out into the light.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

What was it like to work for Donald Trump?

Victorina Morales

I am so relieved that I don’t have to work there anymore. It’s incredible how bitter we all became. We were humiliated on a daily basis, and it just got worse. They even called us dogs. We saw [Trump’s] attitude on television, the things he said about immigrants like us without papers. Then I had to look at him and smile when he was at the club and clean for him. It was too much to bear.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

When was the last time you saw Trump?

Victorina Morales

In August, when he went to the club. I was still cleaning rooms there, and I cleaned the house where he stayed.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Are you nervous about seeing him again at the [State of the Union]?

Victorina Morales

I’m not nervous at all. I feel brave. I’ve come forward, out into the light, and I’m not scared of anything anymore. God has given me strength. I am going to show him respect, because he is our president.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

What would you say to Trump if you had a chance to talk to him?

Victorina Morales

I would ask him to please reform the immigration system. There are millions of us here without papers, and the country depends on us. He knows that because his businesses depend on us and he knows how hard I worked.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

He shut down the government because he wants to build a wall, to keep people like you out of the US. What do you think about that?

Victorina Morales

He needs to stop it with the wall. We’re already here and he needs to let us stay. We’ve done everything for him, and then he goes on television and insults us.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

What do you think about the argument some people make that you don’t deserve to stay because you broke the law?

Victorina Morales

I don’t know, honestly. I would say that we are just here fighting for our survival and that we do so much for this country and the businesses here. We are not doing anything bad here, why not give us work permits?

Alexia Fernández Campbell

What do you think is the state of our union? Is living here worth everything you had to do to get here?

Victorina Morales

Oh, yes. This is such a wonderful, beautiful country. That’s the truth. Especially now that I’ve come forward, people have been so supportive and so willing to listen to me. I’ve met so many great people, and I feel like the country is moving forward.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

So you don’t regret your decision to come forward?

Victorina Morales

No, not at all. We are starting to raise our voices, and no one is going to silence us anymore. Especially now, I feel like people are listening to us, so many people in this country are hearing us. I am so happy that I finally came forward, that I found my voice. I am getting the chance to talk about our rights, that we are here struggling to put food on the table. I feel supported, thank God, and I have a lawyer, and hopefully things will turn out well.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Are you worried that you might get deported?

Victorina Morales

No. I’ve applied for asylum, and honestly, I’m not scared anymore. I have faith in God. And if I have to leave, then I will.

Victorina Morales with two of her sons in her New Jersey home on February 2, 2019.
Politics

What to know about the latest fight over Trump’s executive privilege claims

Energy & Environment

Joe Manchin won’t support a key climate program. Alternatives won’t be enough.

Politics

Americans are ready to tax the rich

View all stories in Politics & Policy

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.