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Trump labor nominee said 40% of his workers were once undocumented

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CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 26:  Fight for $15 workers protest the nomination of Andy Puzder for labor secretary on January 26, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Puzder is currently chief executive of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.. The protest was one of more than 30 held nationwide.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 26: Fight for $15 workers protest the nomination of Andy Puzder for labor secretary on January 26, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Puzder is currently chief executive of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.. The protest was one of more than 30 held nationwide. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, has in the past said that a large number of his employees were in the country illegally.

The CKE restaurants executive made the comments, reviewed by CNN’s KFile, while speaking about how the E-Verify system–a database that enables businesses to check the citizenship status of their prospective employees–made it easier for his company to comply with the law. The news comes after Puzder admitted in a statement Tuesday to having employed an undocumented maid for years.

Puzder has long been an advocate of comprehensive immigration reform to make it easier for U.S. employers to legally hire foreign workers. He has at times cited his own fast food workers as willing to work jobs that regular Americans won’t do.

Speaking at the Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference in August 2016, Puzder said, “This E-Verify system has been wonderful for us because it used to be that we’d have people in the restaurants and somebody would announce that ICE was coming and 40% of the employees wouldn’t show up.”

“And it wasn’t that we were out there trying to hire illegal immigrants,” he continued. “They all have social security cards and driver’s licenses and there was no way to check through the government. So now we have it. But you can’t go back, you can’t go back and E-Verify former employees because there’s a lot of them and it’s expensive and you don’t want to look like you’re discriminating, but going forward we’re using E-Verify so we’re hiring a population that’s here legally.”

A spokesperson for Puzder said that the labor secretary nominee was either being misquoted or exaggerating the proportion of his workers who were undocumented.

“The 40% figure was either a misquote or hyperbole, but Mr. Puzder’s point was to emphasize the importance of E-Verify based on his experience at CKE,” the statement said. “Once E-Verify was implemented, all newly on-boarded CKE employees could only start work once they were cleared by E-Verify. This significantly reduced the number of inadvertently hired undocumented workers.”

Puzder made similar comments at an American Enterprise Institute conference in 2013.

At the event, an interviewer presented Puzder with a comment he had made at the Bush Center in December 2012, where he was quoted as saying, “Our problem with E-Verify has been that on the day we thought the person from ICE was coming, there were a bunch of general managers and workers at our restaurants who didn’t show up that day and never showed up again because there were obviously people who were in California and the country illegally.”

Puzder replied that he hoped he hadn’t said exactly that, but that he no longer employed undocumented workers. He repeated that previously 20% of his general managers wouldn’t show up on days when ICE agents were coming to his restaurants.

“It used to be, prior to E-Verify, and I don’t know, and I hope what I said there was a little bit of a misprint, but before E-Verify, we would have the, you’d announce that the ICE agents are gonna be coming through and about 20% of your general managers wouldn’t show up the next day,” Puzder said. “You know, they’d be gone. Now, we don’t have that problem because of E-Verify we can, before people start work, we can actually verify that they’re here legally and so we really don’t have an illegal, illegal, undocumented, whatever the right phrase is now, worker problem.”

Puzder went on to praise E-Verify as “very, very helpful to business owners who really want to just comply with the law.”

Puzder’s support for immigration and foreign workers has come under scrutiny since his nomination because of the contrast between his past positions and Trump’s hardline immigration stance.

In an August 2013 Washington Post story, Puzder argued that immigrants don’t take American jobs, saying, “Immigrants appreciate what America offers. They are not taking jobs from Americans, because there are not sufficient Americans applying for jobs. Maybe they feel they have better options.”

His comments in favor of immigration have drawn the ire of some on the right, with the adamantly pro-Trump Breitbart News initially opposing his nomination.