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“NEIGH” to Mexican workers

6 May 2007

A doff of the sombrero to Bender’s Immigration Daily, who found this latest example of our debt to Mexico in this week’s Seattle Weekly.


Visa Snafu Brings Immigration Debate to the Racetrack


By Mike Seely


At 5 p.m. two Fridays ago, while many Seattleites hoisted water bongs in celebration of the unofficial 4/20 holiday, a thirsty pack of rich old people gathered in the Triple Crown Suites on the sixth floor of the Emerald Downs grandstand in Auburn. One woman, wearing tinted gold bifocals with her hair dyed a peculiar shade of orange, guzzled bourbon and vocally celebrated the fact that the horse she owned was about to go off at 14-1 odds. Near the hosted bar, a molten chocolate-fondue fountain cascaded next to a faux palm tree, with bite-size pieces of fruit beckoning patrons to take a dip.


During the same hour, 30 Mexican nationals toted their belongings into spartan dormitories on the track’s backstretch, where trainers Howard Belvoir and Kay Cooper were readying their runners for opening night. The Mexicans, arriving two-and-a-half months later than usual to serve as hands-on caretakers for the horses (grooms, in racing parlance, who wash, feed, and walk horses, among other duties), “were sucked up like a dry sponge” by employers like herself, Cooper says.


The Mexican grooms were late because of an unprecedented holdup in the processing of their temporary work visas by the U.S. Department of Labor, a cataclysmic confluence of increased migrant demand, budget shortfalls, and bureaucratic speed bumps. The delay left trainers like Belvoir and Cooper breaking their backs and scrambling for help in the run-up to opening night—to the point where they couldn’t prep their normal volume of Thoroughbreds.


“[The Mexican grooms] were supposed to be here Feb. 1,” says the 62-year-old Belvoir, one of the track’s top trainers. “I was working 6 [a.m.] to 6 [p.m.] menial labor, which is tough for an old man. You would have had a much stronger field of horses had [the grooms] been here on Feb. 1.”


“A lot of horses didn’t get trained because there weren’t enough personnel to do it,” seconds Cooper, who reports that last weekend’s field was considerably thinner than in years past.


(entire story here)






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