PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) –Responding to a CBS4 News investigation, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump defended his use of foreign workers at his ritzy Mar-A-Lago estate claiming "getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible."
Republican challenger Jeb Bush seized upon the story to launch a new attack on Trump's credibility.
"He's a hypocrite," Bush told reporters in South Carolina.
The story touches two of Trumps fundamental issues. Controlling immigration and finding Americans jobs. Trump has bragged that he would be the greatest jobs president God ever created.
"I am so intent in putting people back to work in this country," Trump has said. "Our country can be great again. We have to put people back to work."
Yet on Wednesday, CBS4 News revealed how Trump-owned businesses had requested hundreds of visas in recent years to bring in foreign workers. In order to obtain the visas, the Trump businesses claimed they were unable to find Americans willing to do even the most basic tasks.
The story focused Trump's Palm Beach estate, Mar-A-Lago, which since at least 2008, had requested permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to bring in 70 and 90 foreign workers a year into the country under the H2B visa program. Mar-A-Lago sought workers for jobs as cooks, waiters, and housekeepers. The starting pay: Between 10 and 12 dollars an hour.
Neither Mar-A-Lago nor Trump's presidential campaign would respond to CBS4's request for answers prior to the story airing.
Thursday, during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Trump was forced to respond to the story by "Morning Joe" regular Mike Barnicle.
"Why would you be importing workers from overseas rather than hiring workers in Florida?" Barnicle asked.
"Palm Beach is probably the hottest real-estate maybe in the world," Trump said. "And during the season in Palm Beach, it's very, very hard to get help."
The estate, he said, is closed during the summer. "You know, the expression `Rich people don't like heat,'" he noted. And when it opens in early October, the resort is only up and running for five months or so," he said.
"You can't get help," he said. "Getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible. So we tend to get help from different places including Europe. So we go through a very legal process and bring people in through legal visas."
Tom Veenstra, senior director of support services at Career Source, said if Mar-A-Lago officials were interested in finding workers, all they had to do was contact him. Career Source is a job placement service that helps businesses find workers.
"We're here to find jobs for people in Palm Beach County," Veenstra said. "That's what we do. We do it for free."
Veenstra said he had no record of Mar-A-Lago's staff contacting Career Source for help. If they had he could have easily found them workers.
"We have many, many people, hundreds in our database for jobs just as these," Veenstra said. "And they would love to work there."
Veenstra disputed Trump's claim that it is impossible to find seasonal workers in Palm Beach County. Last year alone, he said, Career Source helped more than 120 resorts and hotels find seasonal workers.
The H2B program has been widely criticized. Wendi Walsh, head of the local union representing hotel and restaurant workers, says employers prefer hiring foreign workers under the visa program over local workers, because the foreign workers can be easily intimidated.
They are unlikely to complain about working hours or conditions, she explained, because their visas are tied directly to their job and if they are fired they can be immediately deported. Walsh also maintained the use of foreign workers allows employers to keep wages artificially low.
"For the employer it's a real advantage," she said. "That employee can't go anywhere, they are not going to quit, they are not going to move to a competitor. If they leave the job they are subject to deportation. It's really as close to being an indentured servant as you can get."
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