Saratoga County: Migrant order won’t be enforced on backstretch workers

FILE - The Saratoga Race Course backstretch.

FILE - The Saratoga Race Course backstretch.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Visa holders working at Saratoga Race Course are exempt from an emergency order aimed at deterring migrants from taking refuge in Saratoga County. 

That is according to county spokesperson Christine Rush amid criticism from Spa City politicians that the county declaration doesn’t legally differentiate asylum-seekers from backstretch laborers, most of whom are Latin American.

The order, first executed on May 19, was a preemptive response to a nearly 80,000-person influx of asylum seekers entering New York — namely New York City — following the expiration of a federal COVID-19 era immigration policy lifted earlier that month. 

NYRA has reviewed the emergency notice and received assurances from the county that it wouldn’t affect backstretch labor, who are responsible for a number of duties, including cleaning stalls and exercising horses. NYRA representatives were told that Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore Kusnierz Jr. has “discretion as to how it is enforced,” Rush said in an email. 

Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino questioned such discretion as “arbitrary.”

“A violation of law is a violation of law,” said Mayor Ron Kim. “I mean, I don’t understand that, but as I said, our biggest issue at this point is nobody’s ever reached out to the city.”

Democratic Supervisor Tara Gaston tried to set up a meeting with county and city representatives, including Kim, to discuss the order. However, county leaders, Rush said, were preoccupied handling the aftermath of a non-fatal shooting of two deputies. 

The Democratic mayor is waiting to speak with representatives from the GOP-dominated county government.  

“If somebody explained it to me, maybe I’m going to agree with them,” he said. “I don’t know. I am concerned about the impact this is going to have on people who are coming into the city, who legally work here and have to be here for the track.”

Gaston didn’t respond to a request for comment. The city’s other county representative, Republican Matt Veitch, declined to weigh in on the order.   

“I know that there are potential — we have the track here and things like that and whatnot, but I just really don’t want to comment on that at this point,” Veitch said. “At this point, I would refer it back to the county.” 

Kim suggested that the lack of a meeting appeared to be a political move. County and city leaders have clashed before in the last year over changing bar closing times and releasing information 

Democrats in Saratoga County are outnumbered 21 to 23 on the Board of Supervisors and in other county government posts. Gaston this year opted against running for re-election, in part, out of fatigue following years-long clashes with the Republican majority.

Two Democratic supervisor candidates, Michele Madigan and Gordon Boyd, are running for office this year. Madigan, a former accounts commissioner, doesn’t believe the order holds much weight toward migrants, but Boyd believes otherwise.

The party-backed candidate delivered a letter to Kusnierz Jr.’s office in Ballston Spa on Tuesday, urging the county to either rescind the order or amend its language to coordinate resources for accommodating migrants. 

“The county’s order is inadequate and smacks of a press release masquerading as official directive,” Boyd wrote in a separate message to The Daily Gazette.

Kim welcomes the possibility of an amendment in the declaration to differentiate track workers from asylum-seekers. 

“We don’t believe an amendment is necessary,” Rush said in an email. “The order clearly states it is a prohibition of contracts with municipalities to transport or house migrants that jeopardize the health, safety, or welfare of the county.”

NYRA is monitoring the temporary order to “ensure that this temporary order is not used to malign or intimidate those who are lawfully pursuing the opportunities that horse racing provides in Saratoga and throughout the state,” said corporate spokesperson Pat McKenna in a released statement. 

The order must be renewed every five days.

Saratoga County is among a number of counties across the state to issue orders, including Fulton, Schoharie and Albany. Under Saratoga County’s jurisdiction, any business, person or entity serving or contracting with migrants can face misdemeanor charges.

The county has blasted out information on the original order to hotel and motel administrators. As of Tuesday, officials haven’t received any calls from hospitality business operators. 

Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil

Categories: -News-, Clifton Park and Halfmoon, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

Leave a Reply