The Immigration and Naturalization Service this morning raided Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, arresting more than 170 suspected illegal aliens working as track employees.
It was the third time in two months that the INS has raided a Southern California track. Agents arrested 123 illegal aliens at Del Mar in San Diego County in August and seized 50 at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona during last month’s race meeting.
Del Mar was forced to cancel a lucrative Saturday of races the day after it was raided, but a spokeswoman for Santa Anita said the track’s schedule, including today’s races, would not be affected by this morning’s raid.
The horse racing industry contends that there is a shortage of American citizens with experience handling horses and that many immigrants from Mexico’s rural areas are far better suited to the job. The INS believes that trainers favor illegal aliens because they accept lower wages and poorer working conditions.
‘Breach of Faith’
Spokesmen for trainers at Santa Anita said they had been attempting to reach a compromise with INS and federal labor officials on their use of illegal aliens. “There’s been a breach of faith on the part of the INS,” charged Don Johnson, executive director of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Assn., which represents trainers.
But Western Regional INS Commissioner Harold Ezell accused the horse racing industry of dragging its feet. He said future raids on race tracks will be made “to send a clear and strong message to the racing industry . . . that American citizens and other permanent residents” should have first crack at track jobs.
INS officials said they believe that of an estimated 2,000 people who work at Santa Anita as stable hands, exercise riders and hot walkers, between 600 and 800 are illegal aliens. Today’s two-hour raid, which began at 2:30 a.m., netted only a small portion of these because hundreds had been recently housed at Hollywood Park in anticipation of the raid.
Trainer Sal Gonzalez, who has seven horses at Santa Anita, said both his grooms had been taken away during the raid.
Trainer in a Bind
“They were very good men, both from Mexico. They had worked with horses all their lives,” he said. “This means I’ll have to do everything myself until I can find someone to replace them--groom the horses, walk them, exercise them, clean the stables. I can do it for a day or two, but I’ve got too many horses for one man to handle.”
Cliff Goodrich, Santa Anita’s assistant general manager, said that most of the illegal aliens are Mexican but that others come from all over the world.
“There was one man from Australia who had proper papers, and he tried to show them to the INS officers, but they waved them aside and still put him on the (INS) bus to take him away,” Goodrich said.