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EXCLUSIVE: Trump vineyard also hired undocumented workers

It's not just Trump’s golf courses that recruited undocumented immigrants. The Trump vineyards in Charlottesville, Virginia, also hired them according to several employees.
2 May 2019 – 10:39 PM EDT
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The number of Hispanic immigrants who claim to have worked without legal documents for the Trump Organization continues to grow.

Univision News interviewed seven undocumented employees who claim to have worked producing Trump wine in the state of Virginia, putting in long hours from sunrise to sunset, without overtime pay.

"I've been here for six or five years,'' said one of the workers who claims he was hired after presenting false documents that were not verified.

The immigrant, who asked not to be identified to avoid reprisals, took Univision on a tour of the vineyard, and proudly showed the field where he works every day.

Thanks to his labor and that of other immigrants, the Trump brand produces 40,000 cases of wine a year.

The employer said that when he was hired he presented a fake Social Security card. According to him, during the years he worked at the vineyard the company never bothered to confirm the authenticity of his documents.

"They've never asked me for anything, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,'' he added.

Another worker from the same vineyard, who also asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid reprisals, thinks the company pretends not to know.

"Yes, they know you are undocumented, because if you look (closely) at the Social Security papers that are handed to them, they’re false,'' he said. "The process is simple. They give you your application, and they find a way for you to fill it out,'' he added.

Trump's vineyard is the largest in Virginia and its fields grow vines that make sparkling, rosé, white and red wines. Trump wines have received several awards. Trump sparkling wines won the Monticello Cup for best wine in the Charlottesville area in 2014 and 2015, and the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc won a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

In the grounds of the vineyard there is a luxury hotel which also partly relies on undocumented workers, according to two former Honduran employees who worked there. Marily Peña recalls that in 2015, when she was a single mother, she says bought false documents in order to look for a job at the property of the then tycoon and presidential candidate Donald Trump.

"I want you to start on this day," she was told when she was interviewed for the job, without asking for her documents, she said.

Marlly had been working in a hospital cleaning doctors' offices for more than five years, earning $13 an hour. When she heard that the tycoon's property needed workers, she didn't hesitate for a second to quit her job and look for a job there.

The person in charge of hiring her told her that he needed her on an emergency basis, but when she found out about the salary, she was disappointed.

"I went with the hope that I was going to earn good money,'' she said. Being a luxurious hotel, he thought it would improve her income. However, she would only be paid $10 an hour, less than she made before.

In addition to the economic disappointment, she explained, there was a loss of illusions, because she expected to meet Donald Trump up close.

When she had the opportunity to do so, one of her supervisors forbade her from approaching the billionaire. She was only able to photograph him from a distance. Marlly says that unaware of the restrictions, she approached Trump, but the businessman didn’t pay attention.

Martha Peña, Marlly's cousin, says she came in at seven in the morning and didn't have a departure time.

"At the hotel the work was risky... we didn't have a trolley to transport the sheets or the chemicals to the rooms. We had to carry everything in our arms. The elevator didn't work,'' said a man who previously worked in agriculture, picking strawberries.

Their cousin Marlly says they had more and more chores.

"My supervisor wanted me to clean her personal room, the kitchen, do her laundry
and clean the gym. I didn't have the strength anymore,'' Marlly said.

It went on largely unknown, according to Martha, because it wasn’t reported for fear of losing a job, or being deported.

"I think people are tired of seeing so much mistreatment and so much abuse, one have to say what's going on because he could be re-elected,'' she added.

Among the abuses, Martha said, is the lack of benefits such as vacations and medical insurance.

"There was no overtime, at least when I worked, no benefits either... if you got sick they didn't pay you."

On the subject of benefits there are different versions. Two of the four immigrants interviewed who still work there indicated that they currently receive benefits such as vacation and health insurance. The other two said they didn't receive benefits.

The undocumented workers told Univision that they purchased their fake documents illegally The Trump Organization has previously told The New York Times that the company has thousands of workers on its properties.

"If an employee presents false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be fired immediately,'' it said.

As a consolation prize lately at the Trump Vineyard, vouchers are distributed as if with a slogan that says, "We appreciate you.” The voucher consists of a free lunch invitation with a photo of Erick Trump, president of the vineyard.

The workers were left with a bitter taste of the vineyard. All of the former employees interviewed by Univision have resigned not because of problems related to their immigration status, but because they say they no longer could put up with the work conditions.

"God help me,'' Marlly said. "I don't know how I'm going to make it, but I'm not going back there.

* Univision has not received a response yet from the Trump Organization or the White House to a questionnaire in which we asked for their views regarding the testimonies of the immigrants interviewed for this report. In the past, the Trump Organization has responded to other media that as soon as it detects that an employee is using false documents, the employee is fired.