Washington Report: Immigrants Make Up 23 Percent of Restaurant Workforce

Note: If you would like to learn more about the Sanctuary Restaurant movement, you can do so in the organization's website.


Twenty-three percent of 14 million restaurant workers are immigrants and so this industry depends on them. At this time, it feels more important than ever to stand with diverse communities and pledge to protect their liberties, dignities, and freedom[s],” says Della Heiman, who put up a sign at her Wynwood restaurant, Della Test Kitchen, that reads: "Sanctuary Restaurant: A place at the table for everyone."

“...We wanted to be a part of this legally compliant movement to support the safety and diversity of our employees. Some of the core values of Della Test Kitchen and The Wynwood Yard are community and diversity. The Wynwood Yard is a hub where we feel that many of Miami’s different communities overlap and come together,” explained Heiman.

Della Test Kitchen is the only restaurant in Miami-Dade County to publicly join the Sanctuary Restaurant movement. This happened after the county’s mayor, Carlos Giménez, was the first in the nation to demand its local officials to comply with President Donald Trump’s executive order to enhance public safety by hiring “10,000 additional immigration officers” to enforce federal immigration laws and target “sanctuary cities” by withholding funding.

To support this executive order, Trump has gone as far as creating a program he first announced on Feb. 28, in his first speech to Congress, called VOICE — Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement — to provide “service to victims of crimes committed by removable aliens and the family members of such victims,” while the program’s office provides “quarterly reports studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.”

What is a Sanctuary City?

A Sanctuary City is a jurisdiction where local officials decline detainer requests of undocumented immigrants by the federal government.

While Giménez’s motives were economically founded to protect the county’s funding, other local leaders, like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, San Francisco Mayor Ed Le,  and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, have taken a moral stance to protect their dense immigrant communities. The 10 largest sanctuary cities combined would be giving up $2.27 billion dollars in federal funding, according to a Reuters analysis, if they do not comply with Trump’s plans.

List of 10 Largest Sanctuary Cities

  1. New York City | $701.6 million funds at risk

  2. Chicago / Cook County | $526.4 million funds at risk

  3. Los Angeles / L.A. County | $466.2 million funds at risk

  4. Philadelphia | $199.5 million funds at risk

  5. Detroit / Wayne County | $104.7 million funds at risk

  6. Seattle / King County | $72.7 million funds at risk

  7. San Francisco | $70.9 million funds at risk

  8. Boston / Suffolk County | $65.5 million funds at risk

  9. Denver | $39.1 million funds at risk

  10. Washington D.C. | $20.4 million funds at risk

(Source: Reuters analysis of federal data)

Also, in response to Trump’s orders, the “Day Without Immigrants” protest took place Feb. 16, when restaurants sympathizing with the immigrant labor force decided to close shop to prove the importance of this minority group to the restaurant industry.

sweetgreen— a popular fast-casual brand, which ranks as high as No. 11 in Foodable's Top 100 Most Loved Brands report— joined the protest by closing all 18 D.C. locations and stated: “Without the hard work and grit of our team, our stores do not run, and that means we can’t make good on our promise to you, our guest. Our team members are the face of the brand, from the front lines to our kitchen — they’re the backbone of this company and what makes sweetgreen special. And that’s exactly why we stand with them, today and every day...”

The same day of the “Day Without Immigrants” protest, President Trump announced his new Secretary of Labor pick, R. Alexander Acosta, after his first choice, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination amid controversy.

Acosta is currently the Dean of Florida International University’s law school and was formerly the assistant attorney general under the Bush administration. If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic in Trump’s cabinet.

Last Update - March 3: At publishing time, two more restaurants have registered as sanctuary restaurants in Miami-Dade County. These restaurants are Choices Cafe and Lulu's Nitrogen Ice Cream.

Why Restaurants are Proclaiming their Businesses as a “Sanctuary” to Immigrants

Sanctuary Restaurant Signage |  Credit: Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Sanctuary Restaurant Signage | Credit: Paul Sancya/AP Photo

As new immigration policies sweep the nation, one of the sectors most impacted by these changes are restaurants.

The industry is immigrant-heavy, roughly 12 million workers in the industry are immigrants. So in an effort to protect staff, restaurant businesses are seeking “sanctuary” status.

“First inspired by churches, the label is something cities and other public entities have sought to offer local protections to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, whether it's barring police from asking citizens about immigration status or refusing to cooperate with federal agents,” writes “ABC News.”

So far there are 80 restaurants, many of which in major cities like New York, Detroit, Boston, and others, that are pronouncing their establishments as sanctuary status.

This is more of a symbolic movement, since restaurants are subjected to workplace law and regulations.

But this movement continues to gain momentum after President Donald Trump signed executive orders last week to jumpstart the construction of the wall, punish cities that proclaim to be sanctuaries for immigrants, and barr visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Restaurants participating are promoting messages of diversity.

For example, the owner at Detroit's Russell Street Deli has a sign that says "SANCTUARY RESTAURANT, a place at the table for everyone” and is making It clear that if you don’t accept this, you don’t have to eat at his deli.

"I have this one little place where I get to decide how people treat each other," said Ben Hall, owner of Russell Street Deli. "If someone has the need to insult someone ... then they don't get to participate. I've told them, 'There's another diner next door.'"

Many establishments are adopting these policies and making a statement to help their staff feel safe and supported in this uncertain time.

While some restaurants are combating the Trump administration and what they see has discrimination against immigrants, some groups are in support of an immigration overhaul.

“The National Restaurant Association, which represents roughly 500,000 businesses, is instead pushing for an immigration overhaul, including an updated verification system that confirms employees' eligibility to work in the country legally. Association Senior Vice President Steve Danon said the organization "is looking forward to working with the Trump administration" on ways to make verification "easier and more cost-efficient,” writes “ABC News.”

Read more here.