By Joe Guzzardi
April 28, 2017
In their oft told fairy tale, horse breeders and trainers constantly fear that get-tough immigration policies will leave them without enough laborers to get their steeds prepared for the big races like the upcoming Kentucky Derby.
In President Trump’s enforcement-first White House, the industry claims it’s more on edge than ever before that its cheap labor supply from Mexico and Central America could dry up. One racing analyst wrote that the industry could be “galloping toward a crisis.” An immigration lawyer said that at the tracks, “people are terrified,” and that shockwaves are reverberating throughout the industry. According to industry sources, only illegal aliens will groom, exercise and hot walk horses. Another immigration lawyer said that, hard to imagine though it is, in his 30 years of practice, he’s been unable to find a single American willing to work with horses.
Illegal workers in the hospitality and agriculture industries are front and center. But the public rarely has pre-dawn access to stalls where illegal immigrants care for million dollar horses. Just as surely as every late spring brings wailing about crops rotting in the fields, wealthy horse owners also predict that their four-legged investments are at risk from a labor shortage that can only be resolved with more H-2B visas. The temporary visas, currently capped at 66,000 a year, allow seasonal employment in the United States.
Breeders and growers have had the same lament for decades – unless more visas are issued, their industries will suffer grave consequences, and possibly collapse. Yet every year, billions are wagered on ponies. Someone has always been around to give the horses the tender, loving care they need.
That the racing industry and its lawyers want more H-2B visas, and maybe even a specialty visa to cater exclusively to its needs, is no surprise. The H-2B is a convenient vehicle for industries to import pliant cheap labor, and pay significantly less than the prevailing wage to the foreign nationals they employ. Since 1952, when Congress created the H-2B, employers, lawyers and labor brokers have consistently gamed the regulations and undermined American workers. Going undercover, posing as labor recruiters, and making site calls, the Government Accountability Office found that cases of fraud and abuse surrounding the H-2B are commonplace. Failure to pay the promised wages, ignoring overtime, exorbitant fees charged to the aliens, and widespread document fraud were among the most common offenses the GAO found.
In a separate investigation, the Labor Department discovered that more than 82 percent of cases it investigated in 2014 violated one or more of the H-2B requirements. Yet even though the Labor Department is charged with protecting the workers, recalcitrant employers are rarely sanctioned or debarred from participating in the H-2B visa program. An H-2B violator has a greater chance to be stuck by lighting than being debarred, said a Florida expert.
The solution to the horse industry’s alleged labor shortage isn’t buried in an obscure, dismal economics formula. People wealthy enough to own horse ranches can afford to pay salaries with benefits to their workers. The day fair pay begins is the same day that the shortage dries up.
Joe Guzzardi is a Senior Writing Fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization. Contact him at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.