A number of groups representing undocumented workers, Central American refugees and Mexican-Americans on Friday condemned the Immigration and Naturalization Service's pre-dawn raid at Santa Anita race track that resulted in the detention of 169 suspected illegal aliens.
In contending that its mass detention of undocumented workers at workplaces is intended to make sure that American citizens and other legal residents get first crack at jobs, the INS is overstepping its duty, said Antonio Rodriguez, counsel to the Coalition for Visas and Rights for the Undocumented.
"The INS is trying to become a labor department," Rodriguez said.
Raids of workplaces are not justified because there is no federal law against an employer knowingly hiring an illegal alien, said Rodriguez and Teresa Sanchez, a paralegal representing the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice. Efforts to pass such a measure in Congress have failed.
Had Search Warrant
At a press conference, Rodriguez, Sanchez and other spokesmen criticized the INS for staging Wednesday's raid at 2:30 a.m. and entering the on-track quarters of hundreds of workers. INS agents carried a search warrant that specified certain buildings on the tracks but not the identities of the suspected undocumented workers.
"If it is a violation of civil rights to do that in Beverly Hills, it's a violation at Santa Anita race track," said Rodriguez, a candidate for the Los Angeles City Council seat recently vacated by former Councilman Art Snyder.
INS officials contend that Santa Anita trainers prefer to hire illegal aliens--and discriminate against job applications from legal residents--because undocumented workers will accept poorer wages and housing conditions. The INS says the track will have to improve those conditions if it is pressured out of employing undocumented workers.
Sanchez said the free track housing provided to workers who desire it is "somewhat deplorable," but said her organization and others consider that a separate issue and do not feel that it justifies the raids.
Several spokesmen at Friday's press conference predicted that trainers will be unable to find enough legal residents interested in filling jobs such as grooms and hot walkers.
Representatives of the undocumented workers and the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Assn., which represents the trainers, have said that they had assumed that the INS would not raid Santa Anita because of efforts being made by trainers to hire more legal residents.
About 80 of the 175 trainers who run horses at the track have expressed interest in qualifying their employees for a federal Department of Labor program that certifies a shortage of native or documented workers in a specific field and issues temporary working visas.
Ernest Gustafson, Los Angeles district director for the INS, said that the agency never committed itself to a no-raids promise. He noted that the U.S. Department of Labor has yet to make a decision on whether to certify that a shortage of native or documented workers exists, and said such requests are often turned down.