- Illustration by Serene Lusano
It’s no wonder, then, that restaurants across the East Bay are training their staff on what to do if ICE shows up at the door.
Few U.S. industries are built on the backs of immigrants to the extent that the food industry is. Over 70 percent of hired farm workers in the United States are foreign born, and at least half of those are undocumented, according to a 2011 report. A 2014 study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that 15.7 percent of all restaurant workers in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants. Therefore, the administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants affects every aspect of the industry.
To date, there hasn’t been an ICE raid or other enforcement action at a local restaurant, but many in the East Bay restaurant industry worry that it’s only a matter of time. Owners, workers, and concerned eaters all have questions: What would happen if ICE raided local restaurants? What rights do those workers have? And what can restaurant patrons do to help?
Know Your Rights
“Know Your Rights” lists have been essential in this new era, but the rules aren’t as clear in a place of business as they are in a home. However, Veronica Guinto, an Oakland-based immigration lawyer who has been doing trainings on these issues for hospitality workers, said, “If they don’t have a warrant, they can’t push their way back to the kitchen. They don’t have the right to do that.”
Winifred Kao, Senior Staff Attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice encourages restaurant owners and staff to ask to see a search warrant and to read it carefully.
“If ICE wants to come into the workplace, they should have to present a search warrant. Employers don’t have to let ICE into any place that is not described in the warrant,” Kao said.
“If they don’t have a warrant, they can’t push their way back to the kitchen. They don’t have the right to do that.” click to tweetUndocumented workers are very vulnerable to unscrupulous employers, particularly now. There may be a language barrier, and since they’re often new to the country, they might not know that they’re entitled to workplace protections. Undocumented restaurant workers might also be concerned about workplace retaliation if they do ask for things like breaks or minimum wage. Kao reiterated that such retaliation, like employers asking to re-verify work authorization documents, or threatening to report workers or their loved ones to ICE, is and has always been illegal.
Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary Restaurants
Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and Richmond, along with a number of other cities in California, have declared themselves to be “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants.
“There’s a misconception that if you’re a sanctuary city, ICE can’t come into your city,” Guinto, said. “Sanctuary city means that as a city you’ve decided that your resources, like your law enforcement, will not share information with ICE if they ask.”
Sanctuary cities will refuse requests to report undocumented immigrants who have had contact with police to ICE. However, ICE can still conduct its own enforcement actions within these cities.
Like the sanctuary city movement, the Sanctuary Restaurants movement is aimed at making participating restaurants a safer and more welcoming environment for all immigrants. The campaign, a joint project of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Presente.org, offers resources to employers and workers about their rights and responsibilities. A restaurant that identifies itself as a “sanctuary restaurant” can’t offer any special legal protection, so the designation is primarily symbolic. Sanctuary restaurants affirm to their employees and customers that there is a place at the table for everyone. However, more concretely, these restaurants have access to information, trainings, and support for their employees.
Evelyn Rangel-Medina, Director of the Bay Area Center of ROC-United, the organization conducting those trainings for restaurant workers, said, “The most powerful way that employers can protect their employees is by having all of the information available to them.”
Preeti Mistry, chef-owner of Juhu Beach Club, one of Oakland’s sanctuary restaurants, says the movement is about “where we stand as a company and what our values are.”
How Can Customers Help?
Restaurant patrons who want to support workers have a number of different avenues to do so. The most immediate way to help is to put anyone picked up by ICE in contact with those who can assist them. If you think you’re witnessing an ICE enforcement action in Alameda County, you can call or text 510-240-4011 to report a raid to a rapid response network, so the network can verify the raid and get attorneys to help. (More information about the network is available here.)
If you think you’re witnessing an ICE enforcement action in Alameda County, you can call or text a rapid response network. click to tweetA more ongoing way to help is to dine at restaurants that have affirmatively supported these issues — whether they joined Sanctuary Restaurants, spoke out against the current administration’s immigration priorities, or supported employees who did not work on the Day Without Immigrants. As Mistry put it, “The most important thing is to actually pay attention to who is the proprietor, what their political background is or where they stand on certain issues. Know who is taking home the money.”
And if a favorite restaurant of yours has not affirmatively supported their immigrant workers in any way, ask them about it, and tell them that this is an issue you care about. Rangel-Medina said, “If consumers start asking these questions to owners and managers, they’ll make the industry know that protecting immigrant workers and vulnerable workers under attack under the Trump administration — if they make it known that they care about these issues — they’ll be more likely to protect their workers and prioritize that.”
Kao agrees: “Consumers can make their choices known and let employers know why they’re making those choices. And certainly the bottom line matters to employers.”