Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took some unexpected digs at billionaire Donald Trump during the CNN Republican presidential debate on Thursday, the most provocative of which surrounded Trump’s past employment and alleged mistreatment of undocumented immigrants.
The attack on Trump came during a discussion of immigration policy. Trump was defending his plan to deport all 11 million undocumented people in America, but keep the “really good” ones. The billionaire said he alone was responsible for bringing the issue of immigration into the presidential race — and Rubio wasn’t having it.
“If you’re going to claim that you’re the only one that lifted this issue into the campaign, then you acknowledge that, for example, you’re the only person on this stage that’s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally,” he said.
Trump fired back almost immediately: “No, I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.”
“Yeah, but you hired a thousand people from another company, another country … he hired workers from Poland and he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgement,” Rubio responded. “That’s a fact. People can look it up — I’m sure people are googling it right now.”
The issue came up a few more times in the debate. At one point, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) jumped into the mix. “Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be hiring illegal immigrants,” he said.
Trump brushed off the claims, at one point accusing Rubio of lying and then sticking with the counterargument that he’s the only one who has actually created jobs. But Rubio wasn’t lying — Over 30 years ago, Trump’s company did hire undocumented workers from Poland to build Trump Tower. Eventually, in 1983, they sued him for poor working conditions.
The Daily Beast’s Michael Daly has a thorough account of what happened. From his story:
The 200 demolition workers—nicknamed the Polish Brigade because of their home country—worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime to knock down the old Bonwit Teller building and make room for Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
According to testimony in a protracted civil suit in federal court, the laborers were paid $5 an hour or less when they were paid at all. Some went unpaid after the contractor had financial troubles. A few never received even the paltry sum that was owed them for their dirty and hazardous efforts preceding the construction of Trump’s monument to his own wealth.
“They were undocumented and worked ‘off the books,’” Manhattan federal Judge Charles Stewart said of the workers after they became the subject of a 1983 lawsuit. “No records were kept, no Social Security or other taxes were withheld.”
What’s unclear is Rubio’s claim that Trump was fined $1 million for hiring those workers. The lawsuit was eventually settled in 1999, and then sealed — there is no record of a fine. The workers did, at one point, request $1 million, including interest, for their troubles. But it’s not clear if that was the outcome of the settlement.
Trump, for his part, maintained at the time that he didn’t know he was employing 200 undocumented workers.
Still, the 1983 case is not the only time Trump has been accused of employing undocumented people to work on his projects. This past summer, the Washington Post reported that several undocumented workers were doing construction at Trump’s $200 million hotel project in Washington, D.C.