With a little more than a week of racing remaining at Del Mar Race Track, trainers are complaining about the workers who were hired when hundreds of illegal alien employees fled the track after warnings and a raid by immigration officials.
“It’s awful; very few of the new people know how to handle a horse,” said a trainer who did not want to be identified. “Actually, the Border Patrol did us a favor by waiting until late August to raid the place.”
Immigration and Naturalization Service agents swooped down on the track during the early morning hours of Aug. 23, arresting 123 aliens. A chaplain with the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn. said that hundreds more of the aliens fled their jobs a few days before the raid, after being warned by the INS. The racing season at the seaside race track began July 24.
The trainer, who plans to follow the circuit to Santa Anita Race Track and the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona after the season ends at Del Mar on Sept. 11, said most of the new workers are U.S. citizens who work a day or two and quit. He and several others who work in the backstretch area said the vast majority of the illegal aliens who left their jobs have not returned.
“If you believe the immigration people, the reason why they raided us was because these people (illegal aliens) were taking jobs away from Americans. Well, the jobs were made available to American citizens, but you won’t find many of them willing to get up at 4 a.m. and work at dirty jobs like these. All of us are complaining,” the trainer said.
Samuel L. Templeton, a security official at the track, echoed the trainer’s comments.
“After the INS raid, people stood in line and filled out applications. Then they worked a day or two and learned what the wages and working conditions were like. On top of that, they learned that they have to pay $25 for a state license, and they said, ‘This isn’t for me,’ ” Templeton said.
Templeton’s security office is located in the main stable area, next to a temporary hiring hall opened by the HBPA after the raid at the track. The INS raid on the backstretch area of the track left the trainers with a shortage of grooms, exercise walkers and hot walkers.
The hiring hall was closed Monday, but Templeton said that a large number of young people, including a local doctor’s wife, have applied for jobs since the raid.
Chaplain Israel Vega, who counsels the backstretch employees, said that “about 1,000" of the 1,700 backstretch workers left the track days before the raid, when INS officials warned that a sweep was imminent.
“The word I’m getting from the guys (aliens) is that they’re not coming back. They feel that the industry has had enough time to legalize them but they haven’t. Some of the workers feel that the trainers turned them in . . . After the raid I was getting calls from guys who would say, ‘I’m in detention. Please talk to my trainer. Is he going to get me out or what?’ ” Vega said.
On Monday, Vega complained that two INS agents walked into his office and arrested a young man who was waiting to talk to him. The youth and another illegal alien were taken to San Ysidro for deportation.
Through an agreement reached between the HBPA and the INS, at least two immigration agents monitor the work force every day on the backstretch and help the track screen applications, Templeton said.