"There were about 30 Ticos (Costa Ricans), and after that, it was Guatemalans, Hondurans ... The course is really big, I’d say it’s about from here to my house. You couldn’t walk it on foot, that course is incredibly big, I understand it’s one of the best golf courses in the United States. "
That’s how Franklin Mora, a resident of Cajón de Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica, describes where he worked without legal status for a company owned by the now president of the United States, Donald Trump, who has focused his policies against illegal immigration and even declared a national emergency to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
The Trump National Golf Club, one of Trump's most exclusive golf courses, was built in large part by Costa Ricans in Bedminster, New Jersey, one of the wealthiest towns in Somerset County.
Franklin Mora worked there in 2002, when the course was starting out.
To work there, the Ticos bought false documents, including Social Security numbers, which were the only requirements by Trump's company before hiring and paying them.
That’s how Franklin Mora remembers it, as well as Mariano Quesada and Abel Mora, also neighbors of Cajón de Pérez Zeledón. Víctor Hugo Camacho, a neighbor of Aserrí, says the same. The four have family ties with each other.
Everyone says that they bought the document through acquaintances and contacts in the ‘Tico district’ of Bound Brook, New Jersey, about 40 minutes from the golf course.
"A false social. That costs about $100," said Franklin. Víctor Hugo, meanwhile, says: "I knew of some who charged them up to $300 or $400. It cost me $125, more or less."
"That was for a fake document, that you got right there in Bound Brook. What I had was a social (security number). It was like a little card, that I left there," continues Franklin Mora.
At different times during the last 17 years, Franklin, Abel, Mariano, Allan, Victor Hugo, and Risley, all Costa Ricans, and almost all from Cajón or with roots there, were helping each other make it to the U.S. in order to work at Trump’s property.
Arriving in the United States was easy. They bought plane tickets to Newark, New Jersey, entered on their tourist visa and, once there, they got to work.
Paid less with fake social security
Franklin Mora says they were paid between $8 and $10 per hour, “before taxes.” He remembers that the deductions were linked to their social security number, even though the number was fake. That means wages were deducted for benefits the workers would never get.
"We would go in at 6 in the morning and go out at 9 in the evening," says Franklin, who is now 46 years old. Without experience as a tractor operator, he worked 14 or 15 hours a day to build what is now considered one of the 10 best golf courses in the United States, as Trump himself advertises on the club's website.
Fired after press reports
One by one, the Costa Ricans started returning back home, but they all still have relatives left in the United States. Franklin has a brother with legal residence, which allowed him to start his own landscaping company.
Víctor Hugo Camacho's brother works in Maryland and his nephews have residency. Abel Mora also has a brother in the United States.
Right now, many Costa Ricans and other Latin Americans working for the golf course while still undocumented are losing their jobs.
In December, The New York Times revealed the illegal labor at the Trump club after talking to Sandra Díaz, from Costa Rica, and Victorina Morales, from Guatemala. In response to the story, Trump executives have started to fire the undocumented workers.
The Washington Post revealed two weeks ago that the "purge" includes dismissals across Trump’s golf courses in New York and New Jersey.
The son of Victor Hugo Camacho, Risley, was one of those who recently returned to the country, in December, after the press reports.
Víctor Hugo sighs, he prefers not to get too much into what others say. Everyone has their own story about working for Trump.
Franklin Mora remembers Max, a very good guy and one of his four bosses, but he also remembers Chris, who in his opinion "was very racist."
Víctor Hugo Camacho says he and his children were treated very well. He worked in construction, and when he began to suffer a pain in his right leg, he left his job on the course and was asked to return after recovering from the injury.
Twelve years later, he began to work at the Trump club again, now taking care of the grass and cutting every inch starting from 4:30 a.m. together with his two children.
He did know that he worked for Donald Trump, but he explains: "About Mr. Trump, that doesn’t really have anything to do with you. It may seem like a lie, but it didn’t really mean anything, in terms of the work and everything else."
The bosses at the club, according to Camacho, treated the workers well.
"As far as I know, they didn’t mistreat anyone, and sometimes they were too easy on people," he said. "When he became president, I was already there, and my boy was still there. I used to say, well, this is going to get ugly, because the man spoke so badly about immigrants."
Franklin and Abel, who only worked at in the club’s very early years, weren’t really aware of who Trump was.
Heading to work together
It's hot at noon on a Wednesday, and Franklin Mora agrees to talk for a while.
He’s doing construction work on a building in Cajón de Pérez Zeledón and he remembers that in the United States, the heat would be even worse. The heat and the cold.
"I was actually doing okay (in Costa Rica), but people would come and say that in the United States you could almost find clothes in every trash can, you should hear what they would tell you. That's why you end up going and seeing for yourself," Franklin says.
Now, 17 years later, he can say that "it's not like you're told," and it wasn’t true that the job would be easy. Even though sometimes he was told not to go in to work because of rain, if he was already working on the course, "it could rain or thunder" and you couldn’t leave you or even wait it out.
"I wanted to go and instead of just hearing about it, I wanted to experience it. Living in Bound Brook (a working class neighborhood in New Jersey), it was like coming to Santa Teresa (in the Cajón de Pérez Zeledón district). "
“All of us who lived there were from Santa Teresa. We worked in that course, and we traveled in a van or a bus to get there at 6 in the morning, and it was 20 of us, sometimes up to 30.”