Two women who worked as housekeepers at Donald Trump’s New Jersey golf club are the subject of a new story from the New York Times about how that business may have knowingly employed undocumented workers for years. One of the women, Sandra Diaz, told the Times that “many people without papers” work at the club. This should not exactly come as a surprise; there are nearly eight million undocumented workers in this country—and Trump himself owes much of his wealth to the labor of undocumented people and foreign workers.
What is surprising is that Diaz and her colleague Victorina Morales agreed to put their names in a national news story about one of the president’s businesses, in the current climate he’s created against undocumented people and immigrants.
Morales was hired to work at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey as a housekeeper in 2013; Diaz, who had worked at the club since 2010, trained her and left the club later that year. Morales “and the housekeeping supervisor took on the job of cleaning Mr. Trump’s house together,” after that point, the Times reports—scrubbing toilets, wiping windows, doing his laundry, dusting his golf trophies. At various times, club supervisors and other employees bent over backwards to help Morales keep her job, according to the Times. After Trump announced his presidency and the club made a show of updating its handbook to have stricter work eligibility requirements, one supervisor suggested Morales talk to another employee who knew how to acquire fake documentation and offered to lend her the money to pay for it. Morales and other workers also get driven to work every day by another club employee, “because it is known that they cannot legally obtain driver’s licenses.”
Diaz and Morales—but especially Morales, who is still undocumented—know how much they have to lose by speaking to a national press about what they endured at the club:
Ms. Morales and Ms. Diaz approached The New York Times through their New Jersey lawyer, Anibal Romero, who is representing them on immigration matters. Ms. Morales said that she understood she could be fired or deported as a result of coming forward, though she has applied for protection under the asylum laws.
But the Times’ story also reveals something about the calculus of coming out as undocumented—it is inherently risky, but can also hold tremendous power:
But Ms. Morales said she has been hurt by Mr. Trump’s public comments since he became president, including equating Latin American immigrants with violent criminals. It was that, she said, along with abusive comments from a supervisor at work about her intelligence and immigration status, that made her feel that she could no longer keep 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,” she said. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”
That undocumented people find work every day in the U.S. is an open secret; that they’re subject to shitty workplace practices is too. This kind of exploitation is as American as a well-manicured lawn. But women like Diaz and Morales often keep quiet because they feel, in the current system, like they have no recourse to fight against long hours, threatening or demanding bosses, or getting stiffed on pay. They are told to be grateful for the work, and many are. (Diaz and Morales reflect on moments where they saw Trump as uptight but “kind,” perhaps stopping to compliment their work and offer a large tip on the spot.)
There are many risks associated with outing themselves—chief among them, lost income and deportation. (Both of the women were undocumented when they started at the Bedminster golf club, but Diaz is now a legal resident, and has not worked at the club since 2013. Morales says she believes her decision to speak under her own name will likely get her fired.) But there is one reason big reason to come forward, and that’s to expose a hard truth about the U.S.: that the system that desperately relies on their labor and wants to keep them in hiding them are one and the same. There’s real power in that.