Sunday, January 16, 2011

Forget gambling, the horse industry is hurting worse...

The horse industry is going to be hurting soon...especially with the David Williams bill that will likely die in the State House.
A federal immigration agent came to the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Jan. 3 to chat with horse trainers, many of whom also race in Kentucky.

The officer said he was there, in suit and tie, on a friendly visit to urge trainers to enroll in the federal E-Verify employment database and check to make sure all backside workers are legally qualified to work in the United States.

But there was also a more ominous undertone: the implication that the next visit might not be so cordial.

“He said he is an enforcer and his job is to arrest illegal immigrants. He said next time he comes in here he would be wearing his blue jacket with his badge, and he would be arresting people,” said trainer Dallas Stewart, who also races in Kentucky. “He said today ‘I’m your friend and I’m trying to help you out. … The reason people are here is for work, and you guys are employing them, and that’s why we need to get it stopped.’”

Like many in the horse industry, Stewart relies on foreign workers, usually here through the federal H-2B visa program, to take care of his horses. But the guest worker program is capped at 66,000 non-agricultural unskilled workers a year for all sectors nationally. For fiscal year 2011, which began in October, more than 35,600 petitions for spots have already been filed. The number of applications routinely bumps up against the number allowed, leaving employers scrambling for labor sources.[...]

“It’s a certain person who could do this job,” Stewart said of working on the backside of a racetrack. “It’s not for everybody. The people that like to do it and want to do it … it’s not a lot of people.”[...]

To horsemen like Stewart, much of the rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate is irrelevant. But trainers also know the result of the debate could have a very concrete impact on the labor supply.

“I can understand everybody needs to be documented. Let’s get them in there and document them,” he said. “These people are here and ready to pay taxes and do what the U.S. government wants them to do. … Whatever it takes, they just want to do it to work.”

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