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The hypocrisy of Trump’s immigration agenda is getting harder to ignore

The president doesn’t want Central American immigrants in the United States. Unless they work for him.

Berta Miranda, who was born in El Salvador, works as a janitor at a government building in Washington, DC. She is one of thousands of immigrants who could lose their Temporary Protected Status in 2019.
Berta Miranda, who was born in El Salvador, works as a janitor at a government building in Washington, DC. She is one of thousands of immigrants who could lose their Temporary Protected Status in 2019.
Courtesy of Berta Miranda

President Donald Trump has some pretty strong opinions about black and brown immigrants.

He’s described Mexicans as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists.” He’s said Haitians in the United States “all have AIDS.” He’s banned visitors from seven Muslim countries to keep out “bad and dangerous people.” And he’s called undocumented immigrants from countries in Latin America “animals.”

Despite the racist undertones, Trump has framed his anti-immigrant agenda as an effort to put “America First.” He’s accused immigrants of taking jobs away from Americans, lowering wages, and costing the US government billions of dollars. So he justifies cutting legal immigration and pushing for a border wall as a way to relieve American taxpayers and workers from the burden he says immigrants pose to the country.

This myth keeps getting harder for him to justify. Trump’s own businesses, and his presidency, have made it clear that low-skilled immigrants are a crucial part of the US economy and even the federal government.

In the past few days, four women from Central America have come forward to say that they’ve been working illegally at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. One employee from Guatemala, Victorina Morales, told the New York Times that she washes the president’s clothes and cleans his private suite every time he visits the club. (The Trump Organization says it has not knowingly hired unauthorized immigrants).

The fact that Trump’s businesses rely on undocumented workers while the president himself rails against them highlights his hypocrisy on immigration. Here are two more examples.

Trump wants to deport immigrants who work for the federal government

The president is trying to cancel the work authorization granted to thousands of immigrants from Central America who clean federal buildings, including Trump’s presidential hospital suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

In January, the Trump administration announced that about 260,000 Salvadoran immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) would no longer be able to live and work legally in the United States after July 2019. He also announced an end to similar protections for immigrants from Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua.

Trump’s move to end the TPS programs, which allow certain immigrants to live in the US after a natural disaster strikes or war breaks out back home, is now tied up in a court challenge. If Trump succeeds, it will have a huge impact on the nation, including the capital, where Trump lives.

About 9,000 janitors and maintenance workers from El Salvador — many of whom have Temporary Protected Status — have been sweeping, scrubbing, and vacuuming government buildings in Washington, DC, for decades. They have cleaned places like the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Agriculture, Ronald Reagan National Airport, and Walter Reed National Medical Center, where members of Congress and presidents are treated.

I interviewed several of them in January after they heard the news.

“It shattered my world,” Helen Avalos said on the phone during her shift as a janitor at Walter Reed, where she has cleaned the presidential hospital suite after Trump’s appointments. Avalos has two American children and obtained TPS in 2002.

Avalos said that she and 45 other janitors at the medical center have TPS. This means that they will probably lose their jobs because they will no longer have valid work permits after the program ends.

Sonia, who works as a janitor at Reagan National Airport and asked to be identified by an alias out of fear of retaliation from her employer, said she and her co-workers were furious when they heard the news.

“I came to escape from the gangs; now he wants to send us back?” she told me during a break at work. “[Gang members] were trying to recruit my son, and they kill people who refuse to join.”

Sonia works with 15 other Salvadoran immigrants who have temporary status. “I just pray to God to soften the hearts of the [politicians] here,” she said.

If TPS workers lose their legal status, it’s unclear how the Trump administration plans to find workers to replace them, considering that the unemployment rate has reached a record low.

Guest workers cook, clean and serve food at Trump’s private clubs

The Trump administration’s first two years in office has been defined by efforts to curtail nearly every avenue of immigration into the United States (both legal and illegal) and to restrict visas available for temporary foreign workers. The one exception is a visa program that benefits the Trump Organization.

The H-2B visa program, which several Trump golf clubs use to hire workers, is the one visa program that Trump has expanded during his presidency. The H-2B visa program allows seasonal, non-agricultural employers — like hotels and ski resorts — to hire foreign workers when they can’t find American ones. Most of the workers in the program come from Mexico, and the Trump Organization is a regular employer of H-2B workers.

The company has hired hundreds of foreign workers through the visa program in recent years to cook, clean, and serve patrons at Trump clubs in Florida and New York, including the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

To get permission to hire workers under the H-2B program, hiring managers need to show that they were unable to find US workers to take the jobs. The people who manage Trump’s properties say it’s too hard to find local workers to take these jobs.

A Vox analysis of hiring records for seasonal workers at three Trump properties in New York and Florida revealed that only one out of 144 jobs went to a US worker from 2016 through the end of 2017. Foreign guest workers with H-2B visas got the rest.

This year seems like it was no different. In July, the hiring manager at Mar-a-Lago asked the Department of Labor for permission to hire 40 foreign servers for $12.68 an hour, and 21 cooks for $13.31 an hour. The club was granted permission to hire them from October 2018 to May 2019.

The fact that Trump personally benefits from the Central American workers he disparages in public makes it increasingly difficult to take his anti-immigrant agenda seriously.

That hypocrisy is what led undocumented workers like Victorina Morales to come forward in recent days, even though it could lead to their deportation. She said she could no longer stay 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,” Morales told the New York Times. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”

It may be hard to find another housekeeper to replace Morales. The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in 49 years, so there aren’t too many Americans desperate for work. If anything, employers are having trouble finding enough low-skilled workers to fill jobs. But that doesn’t seem to bother Trump; he’s still dreaming of building that border wall.

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