DEL MAR — Immigration lawyers and officials of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Assn. met in a trailer at the Del Mar Race Track Saturday night to work out a plan to deal with the hundreds of illegal aliens who work and live on the backstretch of the track.
The meeting followed a series of talks between racing officials and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Border Patrol agents that began this week when Border Patrol agents told race track general manager Joe Harper that they would begin an all-out effort to round up the illegal aliens working at the track as horse grooms and assistants for trainers unless the track came up with a plan to have the workers in the country legally.
"If a major raid were conducted, there would be so many (workers) leaving that the racing program might be in jeopardy," Harper said. "Many trainers would lose their entire (roster of) employees."
Harper said that as a short-term solution, California Horse Racing Board investigators had agreed to conduct revalidations of work licenses at the track to find illegal aliens. He said that in the first 60 interviews Friday and Saturday, 32 workers had been placed in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol agents to be deported. Time required to complete the revalidation process would give trainers time to hire replacements, he said.
Harper said some workers could be replaced quickly, but it would be difficult to find enough good grooms for thoroughbreds.
Some workers attempted a work stoppage to protest the cooperation of racing officials with immigration agents, but assistant trainer Cal Goodson said, "it didn't work, and ever since it's been a mass exodus."
Harper agreed that the threat of a raid had frightened away many of the approximately 1,000 workers on the backstretch.
A source at the track said discussions Saturday involved a plan to issue one-year work permits to illegal aliens at the track to give them time to obtain naturalization papers, but INS spokesmen could not be reached to confirm that.