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."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Protest organizers have called for a Day Without Immigrants around the U.S. tomorrow. 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 has been organized through social media, and it's unclear how many people will actually participate. But here in Washington, D.C., a number of restaurants have already announced that they'll close for the day, and that includes five restaurants owned by Chef Jose Andres who joins me now in the studio. Welcome to the program once again.
JOSE ANDRES: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Why have you decided to shut down tomorrow?
ANDRES: Well, it was a very easy decision. When you have employees that they've 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're not coming to work, next thing you ask, what's going on? What's happening? So I decided to join them and support them. That's what we're doing.
SIEGEL: Is it a paid day off, or it's a day without pay for them?
ANDRES: Well, at the end of the day, they are the ones deciding. They are very proud of saying, we are taking action on what we see as an unfair situation. It seems immigrants, especially Latinos - it seems we are under attack. It seems that we are part of the American dream but somehow seems that America is not recognizing what we're doing. So we want to only show them that if we disappear, we want to show America what may happen.
SIEGEL: Now, I should note that you're an immigrant from Spain.
ANDRES: I am.
SIEGEL: And you've become a U.S. citizen, so it's a personal matter for you.
ANDRES: Very personal.
SIEGEL: It's also personal - you're engaged in a legal battle with Donald Trump over your backing out of a contract over his hotel here in Washington, D.C. That's still going on.
ANDRES: That's a business decision.
SIEGEL: OK. How do you respond to Americans who say that there's a difference between an anti-immigrant sentiment - nativism, we say - and, on the other hand, supporting only legal immigration. That is, there's a difference between saying, I don't want people coming to the country from Latin America and saying, I want the people who come here to come here legitimately, follow the law and once their visas are expired, go home.
ANDRES: I think it's too many conversations at once. Right now, the conversation we're having is that we have over 11 million undocumented immigrants in America that they are part of the American DNA. They're taking care of our farms, our golf clubs, our wineries, our fishing boats...
SIEGEL: Our restaurants?
ANDRES: Our restaurants. And so how we have a Congress that already under two administrations - President Bush tried to pass immigration reform. President Obama tried to pass immigration reform. And we don't see that immigration is not a problem for us to solve. Immigration is an opportunity for us to seize. We need to be giving those 11 million undocumented in America the right to finally belong. How do we do this? That's something for Congress at the end to agree to disagree between each other. But what we need to do today is to draw a line on the sand and to say, immigration reform cannot wait any longer.
SIEGEL: But when you came to the United States, did you just overstay a visa and remain here, or did you apply properly to become a resident?
ANDRES: I came with a visa. I followed the rules of the land as it should be. But let's face it. I do believe today that we are under a new form of slavery to a degree. We let those...
SIEGEL: Of slavery?
ANDRES: Let me tell you how. We let them come in. We need them to work on the farms. We will not be able to be serving a salad at the Congress cafeteria if we didn't have many of those people working very often underpaid...
SIEGEL: Picking the lettuce, you say?
ANDRES: ...Without health care, working long hours. I think it's about time that America that - over the history of America, we were doing things not so right. We were able always to come up with a better solution.
SIEGEL: Do you think that this Day Without Immigrants protest will be effective?
ANDRES: Do I believe this is going to be a huge protest? I don't know. But do I know that my staff is super proud, and they believe that what they're doing is going to send an important message? Yes, indeed.
SIEGEL: Chef Jose Andres, thank you very much for talking with us.
ANDRES: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Jose Andres is planning to close five of his restaurants tomorrow as part of the protest a Day Without Immigrants. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.