The famous Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, but behind the pageantry and horse racing will be an industry that is struggling with a painful and damaging immigrant labor shortage.
Also highlighted below are stories about how Cape Cod businesses won’t have enough immigrants for the summer tourist season — and how a deepening labor shortage in California may lead to $15/lb strawberries.
Across industries and across the country, business owners are saying the same thing: they desperately need immigrant labor, Americans refuse to do immigrant jobs, and Trump’s deportation crackdown is hurting US businesses. Republicans in the House and Senate, many representing states and districts that are impacted, are complicit.
The immigrant labor shortage at the Kentucky Derby
The Washington Post this week highlighted how immigrant workers have become crucial at Churchill Downs, how horse trainers (at least some of whom voted for Trump) depend on undocumented and seasonal workers, how both groups are terrified of Trump’s immigration crackdowns, and what this means for the business owners and trainers who desperately need their help:
Though they do their work a world away from the grandstand and Millionaire’s Row, where fans will sip mint juleps, don fancy hats and cheer for their Kentucky Derby favorites on the first Saturday in May, immigrants have become indispensable at Churchill Downs and other tracks, people in the industry say. Now, fear is spreading that a Trump administration crackdown on immigration will be a calamity both for the tracks and for many of their workers. […]
“This is definitely a business that survives on an immigrant workforce,” [trainer Dale] Romans said. “Without it, I don’t know what we would do.” […]
Said one 53-year-old backside hand who has worked at racetracks across the country: “I’m scared. Because one day, I don’t know, they catch me and send me to Mexico.”
The man, who agreed to an interview only on the condition his name not be used because he fears being exposed to immigration authorities, said his visa expired a couple of years ago but he has kept working, moving up the ranks in the barns where he works. His family has made a life in the United States; if he had to return to Mexico, he said, he’d probably toil in the avocado fields. […]
The staffing shortage was more dire for trainer Gary Patrick, who races mostly at tracks in Indiana and Florida. The 70-year-old Patrick had to wield a pitchfork to clean 20 stalls each morning as he waited for visas to be approved for more immigrant workers he wanted to hire.
“I’m in a trap,” said Patrick, who is in his 50th year as a trainer. “I don’t have any help and I’m killing myself. It’s a bad situation for a trainer to be in. And I’m not the only one.”
Patrick has tried to hire local help. He rarely gets a response, and those that show interest don’t last long. “Two of them did show up and I got about three days out of them,” he said.
Cape Cod and seasonal workers
Meanwhile, a similar situation is unfolding in the Cape Cod area, where innkeepers, restaurateurs and landscapers say they are struggling to find immigrants for seasonal help and in some cases are turning down business:
“There’s going to be a lot of businesses that just can’t function on a full-time basis, and some might not even open at all,” said Mac Hay, who co-owns Mac’s Seafood on Cape Cod and has organized seasonal businesses to lobby Congress. […]
[Even if a government spending bill increases the number of H-2B seasonal visas this year], it will take weeks for visas to be processed, meaning many workers probably won’t arrive in time for Memorial Day and maybe not until after the Fourth of July.
Many resorts rely heavily on foreigners on H-2B visas to work as housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers and the like, saying they cannot find enough Americans willing to take such jobs. President Donald Trump himself has hired seasonal workers at his Mar-a-Lago resort in this way. […]
At the Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, Maine, owner Sarah Mace Diment said she cut back on the number of rooms available during New England’s spring vacation week in April because she is short eight housekeepers, who are paid $10 to $12.50 an hour. None of her visa requests were granted, she said. […]
Landscapers are the biggest users of the H-2B program. Stephen Faulkner, who owns a landscaping and nursery business in Hooksett, New Hampshire, said he expects to turn away hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of work this season because he could not get visas for any of the six Mexican landscapers who have been with him for a decade.
He said he is considering giving up the landscape division.
“My company is being devastated by not having my returning workers,” he said. “I’m running out of energy and fortitude, and American jobs might be lost because of it.”
California farms struggling with 15-year labor slump
Finally, in California, Vice News highlighted how some farms have become so desperate for immigrant labor that they are offering benefits like 20% pay raises, health care, child care, paid days off, and control of whole plots of land.
According to Vice, there are now 40% fewer farmworkers in California than there were in 2002, the result of a harsher immigration policy here and renewed opportunities in Mexico. This summer’s farmworker shortage is expected to be extreme — and this is coming after last year, in which US farmers produced 9.5% fewer crops and generated $3.1 billion less in revenue, all due to labor shortages.
Vice quoted one farmer, Javier Zamora, saying that if the farmworker shortage isn’t alleviated, or gets worse:
I will have to scale back, and that means less production. Maybe the quality won’t be that good, because we won’t be able to keep up. If that were to happen, I think instead of $3-4 per pound of strawberries, you’ll probably be paying $12-15 dollars.
Watch the video from Vice below: