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Lou Dobbs — who famously rallied against undocumented workers on his CNN show — employed illegal immigrants himself, according to a new report by The Nation after a yearlong study by its Investigative Fund.
Dobbs, who was paid $6 million a year for his show, which he left last November, even once said that “illegal employers who hire illegal aliens” should be charged with felonies.
The illegal workers were employed by The Dobbs’ Group, a New Jersey-based company of which Lou is president. The corporation purchased the five $1-million-apiece racing horses his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, maintains, and owns the copyright on Lou’s books.
A 36-year-old Mexican immigrant who walked from the Mexican city of San Luis Rio Colorado to the U.S. — eluding border patrol — said he made the strenuous journey because an old friend promised him a job as a groom at the Vermont stable contracted to care for the Dobbs Group horses.
After two years of working without papers, the unnamed employee (who remained anonymous to keep his current job), obtained a guest-worker visa for seasonal foreign workers — which Dobbs’ had denounced as “indentured servitude” on his show.
He wasn’t the only one. Another undocumented worker, Pedro Gomez, who cared for Dobbs’ horses in Vermont and Florida, said they often worked 12 more hours a day and made $500 a week — just above minimum wage. Gomez said he was never paid overtime, but Dobbs’ daughter occasionally tipped him $100 a week.
A third worker at a stable Dobbs hired, Marco Esperanza, said he was forced to be on-call 24 hours a day. “I looked after Dobbs’ horses while I was illegal,” he said, adding nine workers lived in a small two-bedroom apartment above the stables rent-free.
When asked if Hillary Dobbs was aware workers at the stable were undocumented, Gomez said, “I believe she knew.” He said he found it hard to believe she wouldn’t have known given that she was in close contact with the workers nearly every weekend. Gomez also said that the stable owner definitely knew many workers did not have papers, and took precautions to keep those workers away from immigration agents who stand watch at horse shows.
Hillary did not respond to repeated request for comment from The Nation.
Because the workers were so afraid of being picked up by authorities, they refused to drive — and had to rely on other stable workers to drive them a grocery store once a week. One said he hadn’t seen his family in six years for fear of not being able to return to the U.S. from Mexico. Another compared it to being “imprisoned in a palace.”
The Nation reports that Dobbs also contracted a Florida landscaping company that routinely employed illegal workers called Sedlak Landscaping to maintain his mansion in West Palm Beach, Fla. Rodrigo Ortega said he was one of 15 undocumented workers responsible for “cutting the grass, cutting the trees, cleaning the garden — all the garden work” at Dobbs’ residence for three years.
One day, Dobbs introduced himself to Rodrigo, who recalls, “He told me, in Spanish, that his name was Luis.” The contracting company “knew very well that the majority of us didn’t have papers,” Rodrigo said, but he was told this was “never a problem.” Employees were not required to produce Social Security numbers, and they were not paid overtime.
A 24-year-old Guatemalan immigrant named Jorge Garcia told The Nation that he worked on Dobbs’ property regularly for three years. He was hired even though he said, “I don’t have papers.”
When asked by The Nation if Dobbs knew that employees at Sedlak Landscaping were undocumented, the owner said, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” and hastily ended the phone call. The owner of the Vermont North Run Farm horse stables at first claimed all the employees were legal, but then admitted it was a “total pain in the neck” to get all the proper paperwork for work visas, and that she’d been working on it for years.
A producer on “The Lou Dobbs Show” told The Nation via email: “Lou will not be commenting for the piece.” Dobbs’ attorney, Robert Zeller, said his client would only answer questions on his live radio show, on which The Nation has agreed to appear as a guest.
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