Across the U.S., protesters are calling for a “Day Without Immigrants” on Thursday. It’s a boycott calling for immigrants not to go to work, in response to President Trump’s immigration policies and his plan to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The protest seems to have been organized by word of mouth through social media. It’s unclear how many people will actually participate, though reports suggest restaurants in Austin, Texas; Denver and New York City, as well as the Philadelphia region, plan to join in. But in Washington, D.C., a number of restaurants have already announced that they’ll close for the day in solidarity with immigrant workers. That includes five restaurants owned by celebrity chef José Andrés.
“It was a very easy decision,” Andrés tells NPR’s Robert Siegel. “When you have employees that have been with you almost 25 years, and they come to you in an organized way and they tell you, ‘Don’t get upset but Thursday we are not coming to work,’ [the] next thing you ask is, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ So I decided to join them and support them — that’s what we’re doing.”
For Andrés, who came to the U.S. from Spain in 1991 and is now an American citizen, this is also personal. “It seems immigrants, especially Latinos, it seems we are under attack,” he says. “It seems we are part of the American dream, but somehow it seems that America is not recognizing what we are doing.”
The idea behind the strike, Andrés says, is to show America what would happen if all immigrants were to disappear. Not all of Andrés’ restaurants will be closing. One of them, China Chilcano, will remain open “so those employees that want to work … have a place to do it,” he says.
Andrés is also engaged in a legal battle with President Trump, who sued him after the chef backed out of a deal to open a restaurant in Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel. Andrés pulled out of the deal after Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and as people “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime” while announcing his candidacy for president in June 2015.
“We have over 11 million undocumented immigrants in America,” Andrés says. “They are part of the American DNA. They are taking care of our farms, our golf clubs, our wineries, our fishing boats” — and, of course, American restaurants. “We need to be giving those 11 million undocumented in America the right to finally belong,” he says.
It’s estimated that 1 in 4 restaurant workers is foreign-born, according to an analysis of census data conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. And the vast majority of farmworkers are immigrants; many of them are in the U.S. without legal authorization.
The U.S. food system’s heavy reliance on immigrants is one reason that, as we’ve reported, not just chefs but many restaurants and food brands, large and small, have come out in support of immigrants in recent weeks in response to the president’s policies.
Andrés says the vigorous national conversation over immigration illustrates that it’s high time Congress took up the issue. “What we need to do today is to draw a line in the sand and to say, ‘Immigration reform cannot wait any longer,’ ” he says.
Andrés says that the lack of an immigration policy that recognizes the role these immigrants play in the U.S. economy is “a new form of slavery, to a degree.”
“We let them come in,” he says. “We need them to work on the farms. We will not be able to be serving a salad at the [congressional] cafeteria if we didn’t have many of those people working, very often underpaid, without health care, working long hours.”