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Immigration fears race through Kentucky Derby workers

This Saturday's Kentucky Derby could be the biggest sporting event of the year in Louisville, though fans of the Cardinals' basketball and football teams might well argue the point. Regardless, there is no doubt that the Derby is horse racing's premier event, commanding enormous audiences at the track and on TVs across the nation.

An aspect of the race that typically gets little attention: the importance of immigrant workers at Churchill Downs and throughout the horse racing industry. Many of the workers on the backside of Churchill Downs — where thoroughbreds live during the season — are immigrants with visas.

The Washington Post reports that many of the workers have been raking stalls, feeding and grooming horses, caring for the grounds and performing other chores for years. One man interviewed by the paper said he has worked here in Kentucky for 15 years, faithfully sending paychecks home to his children in Guatemala.

The Post says the $25 billion horse racing industry relies on an immigrant workforce in barns and at tracks across the nation. But the recent immigration enforcement crackdown has many of the workers fearful and uncertain of their futures.

Experts say that the crackdown could create a labor shortage in the horse racing world, which might motivate some trainers to hire immigrants illegally or rein in their racing operations.

"It would be catastrophic, at least at first," said trainer Dale Romans. "I don’t know where it would settle. I know that I wouldn’t want to operate without an immigrant workforce.”

His sentiment is shared far beyond horse racing, of course. Employers in high tech, for instance, are often also reliant on immigrants to fill important roles.

You can discuss your employment visa concerns with an experienced immigration law attorney by contacting the Vickerstaff Law Office.

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