US Elections 2016

Trump’s Latino employees come out against Trump

Migrant workers building magnate’s new hotel are uncomfortable with his xenophobic rhetoric

Video: Anti-Trump protests outside his new hotel.(atlas)

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There is no campaign advertising in Washington DC, but Donald Trump is an exception, as with so many other things in this presidential race.

A huge sign reads “Trump” under “Coming 2016” on the front of the hotel that the Republican nominee is completing in a privileged location of the US capital: the avenue connecting the Capitol to the White House.

I think they oppose him because they see that he is a racist person Francisco Jiménez, from Guatemala

The hotel, which stands very near the presidential residence, is a symbol of the power and ambition of the Republican candidate. But inside his own building, Trump is unpopular. Most of the workers here are Latin American immigrants who are uncomfortable with the business tycoon’s xenophobia.

“I think they oppose him because they see that he is a racist person,” says Francisco Jiménez, 47, who was born in Guatemala.

Jiménez, who has been living in the United States for 26 years, fits windows inside the former Old Post Office, a landmark building that the Trump group is reconverting into a luxury hotel with 263 guestrooms. He has citizenship now, but arrived illegally from Mexico by crossing the Río Grande.

Trump is the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination to the presidential election of November. The New York entrepreneur is promising to deport illegal migrants and build a border wall that Mexico would have to pay for, to stop new arrivals.

Construction worker Francisco Jiménez, with the hotel in the background.
Construction worker Francisco Jiménez, with the hotel in the background.J.FAUS

In July, his anti-immigration comments led Spanish chef José Andrés to cancel the opening of a restaurant slated to go inside the Washington hotel. Since then, Andrés and Trump have been locked in a legal battle over the restaurant, which is being replaced with a grill chain.

Jiménez, the construction worker, does not believe the Republican candidate’s pledge.

“He will never be able to throw out all the Latinos in the US, no matter what he says. It’s just to win votes,” says Jiménez, who works for a subcontractor that was hired by the project developer. “I don’t like him as a candidate. He thinks he can buy anything with his money. But democracy does not work that way. He needs to make decisions with Congress.”

Yet despite his criticism of Trump, Jiménez – who says he will vote in November – feels closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party, because he thinks the former is better at encouraging job creation.

He also mistrusts President Barack Obama’s promises to help immigrants. “Now that he is in power, that’s when more Latinos have been sent back to Central America,” he says, alluding to Obama’s deportation policies.

Around three-quarters of the more than 1,000 construction workers at the site are Latinos, according to several employees

Around three-quarters of the more than 1,000 construction workers at the site are Latinos, according to several employees. But these same people said it was unlikely that any of them lacked their legal papers.

Jiménez says that the Latino workers sometimes discuss Trump among themselves. They hardly communicate with the Anglo workers, but apparently the latter also have misgivings about Trump. “Some Americans say that Trump is sick,” says Jiménez.

But others support him. “I am a Trump fan,” says a white, 50-year-old construction worker who declined to offer his name. But he agreed that most workers at the site do not like the Republican nominee. Other Latino workers who did not want to see their names in print confirmed this impression.

Trump, who puts his name to all his buildings, is using his future hotel in the US capital as a campaign weapon

Trump, who puts his name to all his buildings, is using his future hotel in the US capital as a campaign weapon. He mentions it as an example of good business: the opening is scheduled for September, two years earlier than the deadline agreed to with the authorities, and he also notes that his own economic solvency allowed him to win the 2014 contract to convert the Old Post Office. Once the $200-million project is completed, it will be “one of the best hotels in the world,” according to Trump.

And then there is the symbolic weight. The 2016 posters – a necessary reference in every candidate’s iconography – and the hotel’s location are indirect allusions to the election. The future president of the United States will pass by the Trump International Hotel during the traditional Inaugural Day motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue, in January 2017. The White House is just three blocks away from the hotel.

Jiménez admits it feels strange to work at Trump’s hotel considering that he disagrees with his proposals, but argues that he has no choice

Jiménez admits it feels strange to work at Trump’s hotel considering that he disagrees with his proposals, but argues that he has no choice. “It’s just part of the job. It’s a way to earn money. The boss sent us here,” he says. “The mere fact of working here does not mean you belong to his party or agree with everything he says or does.”

Jiménez is about to end his morning break. He chats enthusiastically with several colleagues outside the door of the future hotel. They are all immigrants, and they all criticize Trump. But one of them opens up about something: one day, Trump came to see how work was progressing, and everyone – including the Latino workers – welcomed him with open arms: “Everyone had their picture taken with him, even if they didn’t recognize him.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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