WASHINGTON, D.C. — Restaurant workers in cities throughout the country want their patrons to experience what a world without undocumented and immigrant labor might look like.
In response to President Donald Trump’s extreme executive actions to restrict immigration and crack down on immigrants in the U.S., these workers are striking for Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants.” The action comes as federal officials claim they have detained nearly 700 immigrants, not all of whom have criminal records, in nationwide raids that have left immigrant communities paralyzed with fear.
Roughly 48 percent of people working in the restaurant industry in the Washington, D.C. region were born in a foreign country, according to the Washington Post. Businesses around the nation’s capital also took the opportunity to express solidarity with their workers, by shutting down completely or offering limited menus prepared by non-immigrant staff members.
That solidarity was on display Thursday in Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, a diverse D.C. community with a large Latino population.
Several businesses along the main thoroughfare were closed, while others were operating with limited menus and staff so their immigrant employees could participate in the strike.
Patrice Cleary, co-owner of the Filipino-American Purple Patch Restaurant, closed her restaurant out of a sense of deep loyalty and gratitude to her 35-member staff, half of whom are immigrants. As the child of immigrants, Cleary told ThinkProgress that the show of solidarity was partially due to her parents who taught her the same values of “hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance” that she’s now seeing in her employees.
“Closing my restaurant not only allows the community to recognize how valuable they are to me but also allows them the opportunity to support something they strongly believe in without the thinking of the possible consequences from missing work,” Cleary wrote in an email. “They take care of me as I take care of them. We all need each other. My restaurant wouldn’t be the successful restaurant that it is today without the immigrants that work with me.”
“As staff, we are all coworkers and friends and immigrants — these people are in our lives,” Tim Kumfer, the general manager at the social justice-driven coffee shop and bookstore, The Potter’s House, told ThinkProgress. “We’re not going to be divided by borders or walls or ICE raids.”
About one-third of Potters House’s 22-member staff are immigrants from Latin American countries and the African diaspora. Kumfer explained that they did not close on Thursday, in part because they also provide meals to the homeless but also because they needed to generate income. He said that the immigrants on strike would receive their normal day’s wages. The decision to show solidarity with their immigrant workers was an easy one, however.
“People bring their own gifts and perspectives, not only in terms of shaping the food choices we offer like pupusas, but even more generally, they’re here everyday,” Kumfer said. “They’re an indivisible part of the community.”