I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has now conducted two (2) sweeps in my hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York. “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable,” Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan recently told the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee. “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” Nice, right? No, not really. Not at all. The result? According to reports, twenty six (26) men have been picked up off the streets of their (and my) community and detained, initially at the Albany County Jail and thereafter at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York. Some of them will be placed in removal (i.e., deportation”) proceedings. Others may already be in removal proceedings. Yet others may have previously been removed and later came back to the United States, presumably unlawfully. Those individuals will have their prior removal orders reinstated and will be removed again. There may be other scenarios too. I know. Some were my clients. Some are now my clients.
Public opinion is mixed as to what happened. Some good, some not so good. Here’s my take.
These individuals are fathers, husbands, brothers, cousins, and perhaps sons too. Some and perhaps all of them played very important roles in our community. In some respects, they were the backbone of our community. That is, some, and perhaps all of them, worked for businesses that we frequent. And some, although I am sure not all, worked for those business legally (e.g., pursuant to valid Employment Authorization Documents that our government issued to them while their applications for political asylum are being adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). It’s ironic, isn’t it? On the one hand, our government issues these individuals Employment Authorization Documents so they can lawfully work in the United States while they wait for USCIS to adjudicate their asylum applications. On the other hand, ICE picks them up off the streets and then detains them.
And what about the employers who employ these workers, and particularly those who were lawfully working for them? Summer has officially started, and opening day of the Saratoga Race Course is now only weeks away. Employers in service-based industries, and particularly the restaurant and hospitality fields, are particularly affected. Quite candidly, these individuals work in jobs that the very vast majority of American workers do not want. (Trust me, it’s true.)
Is the Saratoga Race Course next? This is the time of year you see long lines in front of the race track. These are not fans going to see the races. That’s for next month. No, these are lines filled with hundreds of people hoping to get summer jobs at the track. Those jobs are for what I will call “front of the house” positions, like gate attendants who take your money, people who sell programs, and food and beverage providers. Of course there are many more.
The “many more” include the back stretch workers who are absolutely essential and who do all of the little things to make our track experience enjoyable. These are the trainers, exercise riders, jockeys, grooms, farriers, veterinarians, muckers, jockey agents, and all the other positions associated with horse racing. A great many of these workers are foreign workers. And although many of these workers are no doubt here lawfully, dare I say that some are not? Will ICE be on the race track’s doorstep next?
There are three issues that we’re dealing with here. On the one hand, what’s happening to the foreign workers who have been picked up? What about their families, some of whom are U.S. citizens? Each of their situations will be different. Each one may (or may not) have relief to stay in the United States long-term. Time will tell.
On the other hand, we’ve got the employers. Track season is the biggest part of their year, and right now those in the restaurant and hospitality industry are dealing with unexpected (and unwanted) labor issues.
And on the “third” hand, we’re in a very tight labor market right now. Saratoga Springs is fortunate to have very low unemployment. But with that comes issues associated with hiring enough workers to fill year-round labor needs, including the bump that employers need during track season.
The solution? How about an immigration system that works? One that is responsive to the legitimate needs of our business community. Unfortunately, our immigration system is broken, and it’s been broken for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean that federal law enforcement officials should be coming into our community and creating unnecessary fear among our friends, families and neighbors. What we need are meaningful and compassionate solutions from our “friends” in Washington, D.C. What’s the over – under that that will happen anytime soon?