President Trump's most recent executive orders regarding immigrants—along with a pair of Department of Homeland Security memos issued this week—have succeeded in sending a chill down the spine of undocumented restaurant workers throughout the US. As many as 20 percent of all cooks and 30 percent of all dishwashers in US restaurants may be undocumented, according to a Pew report.
And those workers have every right to be worried. Just yesterday, agents from ICE—the Immigration and Custom Enforcement bureau—were already at work. ICE agents raided several restaurants in Mississippi, and a total of 55 workers were detained.
Eight Asian restaurants—most part of the Ichiban and China Buffet chains, and all located in the Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi areas—are said to have been raided. Thomas Byrd, an ICE spokesman, said the agents entered under the authority of federal criminal search warrants.
When MUNCHIES reached out to ICE for comment, a spokesperson declined to go into any details on the raids, but provided us with the following statement: "US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed multiple federal search warrants at eight restaurants in the Jackson and Meridian, Miss. areas Wednesday. The search warrants stem from an ongoing federal criminal investigation begun more than a year ago. A total of 55 foreign nationals were detained yesterday in connection with the ongoing criminal investigation. Consistent with agency policy not to discuss the details of any ongoing federal investigation, no additional information is releasable at this time."
A local immigration attorney named Ramiro Orozco told Jackson's Clarion-Ledger that his office was "flooded" with calls for help following the raid. Orozco called the raids "alarming" and said, "ICE's focus should not be on ripping apart families and adding to the distrust of law enforcement by the communities, which undermine our state's economy. All persons, citizens or not, deserve due process and access to legal representation."
The economic impact of immigration raids and deportations on the food and restaurant industries—not to mention the agriculture sector—could be massively crippling, as all rely on the labour of a large, although hard to calculate, number of undocumented workers. The restaurant industry has faced increasingly debilitating labour shortages over the last few years, and a rise in ICE raids on restaurants would almost certainly serve to exacerbate the issue.
Employers are required, by law, to ask employees for proof of authorisation to work in the United States. Typically, employees are asked to present a US passport, green card, or Social Security card. Employers must then verify to the government their belief that the documents are legitimate, but as immigration attorney Richard Green told the LA Times, "If it's a really good fake green card, it's a really good fake green card. Employers aren't immigration officers."
But now the federal government is taking matters into its own hands. President Trump's revamped immigration policies promise to crack down on unauthorised immigrants in several ways, including by beefing up the number of ICE and border patrol agents in a hiring spree that will bring on 15,000 new workers.
That means a lot more raids, and many more restaurant workers who will be facing the same fate as those at Mississippi's Ichiban and China Buffet restaurants.