Immigration law and horse manure

Racehorse industry says Americans don't want to be grooms.

Published July 20, 2006 4:32PM (EDT)

"Tomorrow morning, over 800,000 racehorses in this country are going to need a bath. If you aren't going to wash them, who will? That's the bottom line."

So ends an article on harness racing and immigration law, written by attorney Chris E. Wittstruck, the founder and coordinator of the Racehorse Ownership Institute at Hofstra University. I found this tale of woe about labor and the racehorse industry while searching for information yesterday about the "labor certification" process employers have to go through if they want to hire foreign workers on temporary H-2A or H-2B visas.

So add the racehorse industry to the list of employers chafing at U.S. immigration law because, claims Wittstruck, Americans don't want to do the nasty grunt work necessary to keep thoroughbreds happy.

"Backstretch jobs" (so called because they are far away from the glamorous racetrack) "are a difficult and dirty engagement for which the employee is relatively poorly compensated. The same can be said for nannies, housecleaners and low-end maintenance workers. In America, nobody strives to attain these jobs."

To which, as I noted yesterday, the American worker will respond: Pay me enough, and I will muck out your stall while whistling a merry tune.

And that may be true. But Wittstruck's analysis, which offers a pretty good summary of immigration law as it applies to hiring foreign workers, claims that current law requires employers to pay a wage to their foreign workers that is higher than what they pay to Americans, and that the labor certification hoops employers have to jump through are costly and time-consuming. One could well argue that that's how it should be -- it should cost more to hire from abroad. But the fact that employers are willing to go ahead and do so anyway, even if they complain all the way, is at least a modest indication that yeah, maybe there isn't a surfeit of Americans who want to shovel horse shit and scrub horse's asses all day long.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Immigration Immigration Reform