GLOBAL ECONOMY

Donald Trump's D.C. building hired workers who were once undocumented

U.S. tycoon Donald Trump attends the inauguration ceremony of the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)

U.S. tycoon Donald Trump attends the inauguration ceremony of the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)

Just five blocks from the house on 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue that presidential hopeful Donald Trump hopes to one day occupy, is a construction project for a $200 million, luxury hotel that will bear his name.

That project, just steps away from the White House, has come under scrutiny because it employs many undocumented immigrants that Trump railed against when he announced his run for president.

The majority of workers who are building the Trump International Hotel are – or have at one time been – those same undocumented immigrants that Trump said were often drug dealers or “rapists.” That has led a mixture of fear and furor among the men working at the site.

"It's something ironic," Ivan Arellano, a 29-year mason worker who came to the U.S. from Mexico and obtained legal status through marriage, told The Washington Post. "The majority of us are Hispanics, many who came illegally and we're all here working very hard to build a better life for our families."

Despite outrage from Latinos and other Republican presidential candidates over his comments – as well as the loss of a number of multi-million dollar business deals – Trump has remained steadfast in defending his comments.

On Monday, the businessman issued a lengthy statement refusing to back off his comments – even after NBC, ESPN, Univision and PGA of America announced they would cut ties with him.

In his new statement, Trump said "the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States" and claimed that in many cases, they are "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc."

Trump's comments have worried some workers on the site of his new hotel in Washington D.C., many who believe that Trump might just fire them all for being Hispanic.

"Most of the concern is that this escalates into a bigger problem," said Daniel Fernandez, a sheet metal worker who was granted asylum in the U.S. after fleeing El Salvador during the country's bloody civil war in the 1980s. "He might come one day and pretty much tell us to get the heck out of here."

Some of the other workers on the construction site expressed anger at Trump for labelling Hispanic immigrants as violent criminals when they are doing dangerous work to build one of his hotels.

"Do you think that when we're hanging out there from the eighth floor that we're raping or selling drugs?" said Ramón Alvarez, a 48-year old window worker from El Salvador. "We're risking our lives and our health. A lot of the chemicals we deal with are toxic."

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said in a statement to the Washington Post that the company and its contractors followed all applicable U.S. immigration laws when hiring the site's workers.

Land Lease, the lead contractor at the site, "requires all contractors performing work at the project to follow all applicable federal, state and local laws," the statement added.

Trump's legal consul, Michael D. Cohen, added that there has never once been a question of illegal hiring practices at any of the mogul's work sites.

"Mr. Trump, who is the 100 percent owner of the Old Post Office, hired one of the largest contractors in the world to act as the general contractor," Cohen said. "That company is Lend Lease. They then go out and employ subcontractors to work for them. The obligation to check all workers on site is exclusive to Lend Lease. This of course assumes that the assertion regarding the employees' status is accurate."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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