Immigration reform unlikely with Obama in White House, but horse trainer Dale Romans says action is necessary

12/02/2015 03:29 PM

President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration policy has drawn legal challenges and ramped up the political rhetoric in the presidential race.

But lost in the talking points is how Kentucky stands to benefit from changes in national immigration policy.

Horse trainer Dale Romans, owner of Romans Racing Stables, employs anywhere from 40 to 80 foreign workers from places like Mexico and Guatemala on H-2B temporary visas, and he says his business and others like it depend on immigrant labor.

The lower-wage jobs at his stables aren’t pretty, but Romans says work like shoveling manure must be done by someone.

Romans has to advertise any job he wants to fill via immigrant labor to Americans as well. Of the handful of Americans who have answered his ads over the years, Romans says none lasted longer than two days.

“The labor force in this country has become so small,” Romans told Pure Politics in an interview.

“It cannot cover all the jobs that we need covered, and I don’t know if that’s because, I’m not an expert on social programs, but my guess is it’s easier to stay at home, take social programs, and you’re not going to make that much more money if you go out and go to work and you’re not foresighted enough to see that I’m going to work at a low wage so I can build myself in to the middle class or where it leads me into a higher level.”

Romans isn’t advocating for a particular approach to immigration reform, but he said the U.S. could start by pushing other countries to enact better labor laws and higher wages through trade agreements.

Romans says reform efforts must also address issues with H-2B visas, giving immigrants more flexibility to find jobs and report unsavory work conditions.

“Once I do an H-2B visa with an immigrant, I own him,” Romans said. “He cannot quit and go to another job. Something is fundamentally wrong about that, that there’s no place he can complain.”

“He works for me for 10 months, then he has to go home, and it just doesn’t seem right in America that they’re giving me this guy on his H-2B and he’s legal, and he’s mine,” Romans continued.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth was part of the House of Representatives’ Gang of Eight working for comprehensive immigration reform in two thousand thirteen.

In an interview with Pure Politics in June, Yarmuth said Kentucky could not have viable Thoroughbred or agriculture industries without immigrant labor, calling comprehensive reform “critical” for the state.

“Immigration reform is mandatory,” said Yarmuth, D-Louisville. “It’s not, again, this is not an optional activity. We have a system that’s broken. We need good workers throughout our economy that are not available in the United States, and we need to also bring the best minds in the world to this country. We’re not doing that right now, and we need to do everything we can to keep families together.”

But with Republicans in control of Congress and still bristling over Obama’s executive action on the issue, don’t expect action on immigration reform any time soon.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan have said as much in public remarks after the president took executive action to prevent the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration is appealing federal court rulings blocking his executive action.

“I think it would be a ridiculous notion to try and work on an issue like this with a president we simply cannot trust on this issue,” Ryan said on a recent episode of CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “He tried to go it alone, circumventing the legislative process with his executive orders.”

In the midst of a stalemate between the executive and legislative branches and intense political rhetoric from some GOP presidential hopefuls, Romans says Hispanic workers have been “disrespected” by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“The thing that keeps Trump going is the fact that he can keep championing get rid of ‘em, and everybody’s so popular about that,” Romans said. “… It is not easy to get into the United States for these people, so we’re getting the smartest and the best and the strongest to get here, and they work hard and they send 80 percent of their money home.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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