Trump immigration policy spur ire at Kentucky Derby: ‘We can’t find workers’

Horse proprietors and trainers have voiced fury amid a reported dearth of employees, as immigrants dread expulsion and activists take a stand

A dark cloud has been hanging over the Kentucky Derby this weekend as horse trainers have made public their rage at Trumps immigration policies, which they say are hurting the Kentucky Derby, the USs most glamorous pony racing event.

We cant find workers this year its been tough, tells Julio Rubio of the Kentucky Horsemens Benevolent and Protective Association. Most of the workers we have at the track wont even leave to go out at night to buy groceries because they are so scared of being deported.

The horse racing industry is big business in Kentucky. It brings more than$ 4bn a year to the state. The owners of ponies at Churchill Downs racetrack are among the countrys economic upper-clas; derby wins can bring in handbags that easily surpass $ 1m.

But the race, and the the efforts of the wider industry, rest largely on the backs of an immigrant workforce construct on average $400 – $600 a week as well as free lodging in a huge dormitory inside the Churchill Downs complex. The skilled run typically requires a regular crew of guest employees, who live in Mexico in the offseason. However, as a result of Trumps immigration crackdown, many pony employees were unable to attain the trek to Churchill Downs this year.

Horse owneds have expended the week criticizing the effects that Trumps immigration policies have had on this years derby.

Theres a lot of uncertainty about whether or not we are going to have the labor force we need, Dale Romans, the second-winningest trainer in Churchill Downs history, told the UKs Channel 4 News this week.

The owneds are not the only ones who are angry. Heavy rain last Thursday marred the Pegasus Day parade that marks the opening of the annual Kentucky Derby festival. But Sarah Nunes, a member of Mijente, a national organization of Latino activists, wasnt going to let it set her off. Dont worry, we have mint juleps and bourbon back there, she joked before heading out to protest in the frost rain.

Nunes led a group of half a dozen Mijenete activists garmented in the dark green waistbands that prizewinning ponies at the Derby wear. They handed out flyers calling on Louisville to become a sanctuary city.

The normally festive procession had turned into a mess of ponchos and weeping children. But despite the cold weather, the crowds reaction to the flyers, featuring a mint julep and calling on activists to #CrushIce, appeared to be warm.

Activists with Mijente said the Derby marked the first time the states economic elite had addressed the issue of immigration.

Its hypocritical, told Jesus Ibanez. We are glad that they are concerned for the individuals working at the pony stalls, but this has been happening throughout the city, and they say nothing.

Ibanez said that since Trump had taken office, approximately 100 undocumented immigrantshad been arrested in raids in the Louisville area. He described fear in the community amid narratives that mothers had been arrested when walking their children to school.

My God, I was getting bellows left and right from households not taking their kids to school, told Ibanez. They werent “re going away” outside of their homes.

Despite the relative silence of the business community regarding the raids, Nunes said that she saw the outrage on behalf of the members of horse owneds as a sign of progress for the growing immigrant community in Louisville.

We have really been embraced, said Nunes. Communities are coming out for us lesbian groups, Black Lives Matter, the unions, the churches they all come out for us. People are loving that Latino people are get organized here in Louisville.

The activists, proprietors and the crowds seemed to be inducing the best of the procession, and the weather, until someone spotted Kentuckys notoriously anti-union Republican governor, Matt Bevin.

The immigrant activists started booing him and Bevin rapidly fled to the other side of the street to continue his glad-handing with the crowd.

But cornered by the Guardian, Bevin too expressed concern about how immigration policies are affecting the Kentucky Derby this year.

I mean, the reality is that we need job, we need people who are here legally, so we need to make it easy and fast for people to be immigrated into the United States, says Bevin. We need immigration; we need safe immigration; we need fast immigration.

Back on the sidewalk on East Broadway, Nunes said she was shocked by Bevins statements.

Is it an opening? Yeah, I do think its an opening, but the people they are having conversations with arent people like us. Its business owners, said Nunes. We are people that want to live in a society that is safe and carnival, and where we do not have to worry about driving and getting pulled over and being deported. These are the kind of people they should be talking to.

Its progress, said Nunes. But we got a lot of work to do.

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