Pay and pride clash for Latino workers at Trump golf course

By Laila Kearney and Sebastien Melo NEW YORK, July 12 (Reuters) - From the nearest bus stop, workers navigate about a mile of overgrown and cracked sidewalk before they reach Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx, with its pristine fairways, treacherous bunkers and expansive views of the jagged Manhattan skyline. As dozens of golfers, mostly white males in khaki pants and polo shirts, hit balls across the course, the work crew arrives. Workers wash golf carts and cut lawns. They keep the clubhouse clean and secure. Like Andris Garcia, a 22-year-old security guard at the course, many are Latinos, immigrants or descendants of immigrants. They work for Donald Trump while at the same time being offended by the Republican presidential candidate's comments on immigration. "It's messed up what he said about Mexicans because they came over here to do a decent job, just like everybody else," said Garcia, who is of Dominican descent. "Just because they're Mexican, it doesn't mean that they came over here to sell drugs or kill people." Since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination last month, Trump has faced the fury of Latinos and the cancellation of major business deals after he accused Mexico of sending rapists and other criminals to the United States. Immigrant activists have staged protests against Trump in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Companies including Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal and retailer Macy's Inc. have severed ties with him. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it would rename navigational waypoints named after Trump. Trump's comments have proven both perplexing and painful for Latinos employed by his businesses, which stretch from resorts to beauty pageants to golf courses, including Ferry Point. "I'm not a killer, I'm not a drug dealer," said a 17-year-old Ferry Point greeter from a Puerto Rican and Dominican background, who asked not to be named. "I'm a student about to go to college and have a successful career." The employee said some of his Latino co-workers, Mexican immigrants in particular, were upset by Trump's comments but would not consider quitting their jobs because of them. "We're hard workers," he said. "We work to prove that we're not what they claim us to be." Ron Lieberman, Executive Vice President of Management and Development at The Trump Organization, said Ferry Point employees appear happy and have not complained about Trump's remarks, which were intended to be about boarder control and not culture. "If there are negative statements being made, then they're probably not getting all the facts," Leiberman said. 'ABSOLUTELY APPALLED' Ferry Point, a luxury course designed by Jack Nicklaus and John Sanford, is among 17 courses operated by Trump, including the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland and the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, where the 2015 Grand Slam of Golf was due to be held in October. The PGA of America plans to move that event because of the controversy surrounding Trump's comments. Ferry Point, built on a former landfill in the Bronx, New York's most Latino-populated borough, includes a temporary clubhouse and an outside restaurant and bar with a view of the East River and Whitestone Bridge. A round of golf costs about $215 per person on a Friday afternoon. Trump was the winning bidder to run the 18-hole, 7,400-yard public golf course. It opened in April after years of construction delays, due in part the discovery of high levels of toxic gases at the site and a falling out between the city and a previous developer. Now, three months into operation, the course is coming under scrutiny because of its ties to Trump. A prominent Bronx blogger, Ed García Conde, has launched an online petition, signed by more than 6,000 people so far, urging the city to scrap its contract with Trump for the golf course. This month, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would review the agreement. "I was absolutely appalled that he would say something like that about the Mexican community," said García Conde, who is Puerto Rican, adding it was unfair for Trump to benefit from a business in the heart of a Latino community. "I hope that the city can find a way to cancel his contract," he said. Trump on Monday released a three-page statement that reinforced his previous comments, but added that the United States benefits from legal Mexican residents. "I am proud to say that I know many hard working Mexicans-many of them are working for and with me," it said. Hispanics make up more than a quarter of the workers at Ferry Point. Some workers said they preferred not to mix politics with their paycheck. "Everybody's got their opinion and everybody gets to give their opinion," said Dominican employee Alex Ramirez, 31, while trekking to his job. (Editing by David Gregorio)