Immigration enforcement agents recently swooped down on a small restaurant in Buffalo and arrested Sergio Mucino, the owner of La Divina, a Mexican market and taco counter. Mucino was charged with housing workers who are in the country illegally in residences around Buffalo, transporting them to jobs at his restaurants and paying them off the books, according to The New York Times.
Immigrant groups fear such raids will be more common under a President Donald Trump, who vowed to deport 11 million immigrants here illegally.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has said that if Trump follows through, “Every restaurant in America would shut down.” He calls immigrant workers the “backbone of the industry.”
Earlier this year, soon after Vetri Family Restaurants in Philadelphia were acquired by Urban Outfitters, employees were put through the screening process E-Verify, which certifies a worker’s legal status. As a result, 30 employees were terminated.
“It just sucks,” former owner Marc Vetri told Philly Magazine. “You have second- and third-generation immigrants who have raised families here, and there’s still no real road for them to get legal.”
A tough but fair immigration reform bill would offer such a path, but hopes for that seem dim. Many are waiting to see whether raids such as the one in Buffalo are a preview of things to come.
But it’s not just Latino workers here illegally who are worried. In NYC’s Chinatown, agencies with names like Successful Restaurant Employment Agency screen a steady stream of potential Chinese restaurant employees.
“There are only three jobs a Chinese immigrant can get without papers,” a woman from Beijing told The New Yorker. “You can get work in a massage parlor, you can work doing nails, or you can work in a restaurant.”
Tom Bauerle, a conservative-radio talk-show host in Buffalo, told the Times many of his callers strongly supported the actions of the agents who raided Mucino’s Mexican restaurants.
“At the same time,” Bauerle added, “they are disappointed because apparently these places made awesome tacos.”
Playwright Mike Vogel is the author of the new comedy “Senior Moment.”