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Program reunites Saratoga backstretch workers with their families

Program reunites Saratoga backstretch workers with their families

Fifty-five people made the trip from Elmont to Saratoga Race Course on Tuesday
Program reunites Saratoga backstretch workers with their families
Edward Escobar gets a bear hug from his two daughters Rose, 13, right, and Jasmara, 14.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Though Saratoga Race Course was quiet on Tuesday, across the street there was commotion outside the recreation hall as several backstretch workers were reunited with their families. 

Edward Escobar greeted his two teenage daughters who were visiting for the day from Elmont.

"I'm so happy," he said. "I've been counting down the days."

Escobar last saw his daughters at the end of June and said he chats with them on the phone every day. 

"It's not the same when you're not there," he said. "It's hard for everybody."

Escobar's 14-year-old daughter, Jazmarie, said she was grateful to visit with her father on Tuesday. 

"Not a lot of people get to see their dad everyday," she said. "We FaceTime a lot, but it's nice to see him face to face. 

"I love spending time with him."

Since 1988, Escobar has worked at race tracks across New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

He currently splits his time between Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park in Elmont and Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. 

At Saratoga Race Course, Escobar gallops horses and helps out at the recreation hall as well as with parking. 

"Every day we have something going on at the rec hall," he said, such as ice cream socials and dinners for the backstretch workers. 

Escobar said it's important to plan events for the backstretch workers as many of them are scared to venture far from the Union Avenue racetrack. 

"It's tough for them, because of immigration," he said. "We try to keep them here."

Last June and July, nearly 30 immigrants were arrested in the city by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

In early July, community members held a march along Broadway to Congress Park to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the region and across the country. 

This season, Escobar said there were many new backstretch workers as some were afraid to come up to Saratoga Springs. 

"A lot of people stayed in Belmont," he said. "We don't have as many people as we usually do." 

The Race Track Chaplaincy's New York Division has organized the family trips, which take place four times over the course of the racing season, for at least the past 15 years, according to Program Director Nick Caras. 

"We saw a need years ago, so we asked the New York Thoroughbred Horseman's Association to fund it and they agreed," he said. 

Caras said 55 people paid $5 to make the trip on Tuesday to see their families at Saratoga Race Course. Two trips are also organized in August for backstretch workers to visit their family members at Belmont Park. 

"It's very touching," Caras said of seeing families reunite. "I hope funding increases and we're able to bring them up more." 

Elizabeth Rosas, 12, came up with her family from Elmont to see her two uncles. 

"It's hard sometimes, but it's not too bad, because we're not too far from each other," she said of being separated from her family. 

Rosas said her uncles, aunts, mother and cousin would likely spend Tuesday shopping and spending time together. 

"I love having my family around," she said. "I look forward to it every summer." 

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