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Feb. 16, 2017, 3:42 p.m. EST

Celebrity chefs José Andrés, Rick Bayless join #daywithoutimmigrants to stress impact on restaurant economy

Andrés urges reform, likening immigrant work situation to new form of slavery

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By Rachel Koning Beals


Getty Images
Chef José Andrés speaks in October at the residence of the French ambassador after being awarded two Michelin stars for his Washington restaurant Mini Bar.

Dining-out plans in major U.S. cities may need a rethink Thursday as protesters, including some celebrity chefs, planned a nationwide work walkout to mark a “Day Without Immigrants” in response to President Trump’s immigration policies and his plan to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Accordingly, #daywithoutimmigrants was trending and expected to impact restaurants in particular, but also other businesses, in New York, Austin, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, Washington, Minneapolis and elsewhere.

That includes five restaurants owned by celebrity chef José Andrés, a U.S. citizen who came to the U.S. from Spain in 1991. Andrés is engaged in a legal battle with Trump, who sued him after the chef backed out of a deal to open a restaurant in Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel. Andrés said he pulled out of the deal after Trump referred to Mexican immigrants at the earliest stages of his campaign as “rapists” and as people “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime.”

Read: Small businesses to strike Thursday to protest Trump’s immigration policies

In Chicago, “Celebrity Top Chef” winner and veteran restaurateur Rick Bayless planned to close his popular Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco and Fonda Frontera after consulting with his staff. Cruz Blanca and Leña Brava, Bayless’s newest restaurants, in the West Loop neighborhood, will remain open Thursday with 10% of revenue donated to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, he said.

“For three decades, we’ve been a place that has welcomed, respected and promoted our immigrant staff, friends and restaurant family,” Bayless said in a statement.

Because word of the boycott spread organically largely by social media and without the backing of a lone group, participation numbers were hard to come by.

A Charlotte television station said a boycott speaker there claimed 250 Hispanic businesses closed to mark the day.

Hours for food service in the U.S. Senate were reduced Thursday because of the walkout, Washington Post reporter Perry Stein tweeted.

The nationwide protests come as Immigration and Customs Enforcement ramped up raids and potential deportations for some immigrants caught up in policy ambiguity. Thursday protest participants said they’re hoping to stress the vital role that immigrants play in the U.S. economy and the hole their absence from payrolls would leave in the restaurant, retail and agricultural industries, among others. Analysts continue to debate whether Trump’s focus remains on illegal immigrants or might be extended to limits on immigration overall, and what impact fewer of both documented and undocumented workers could mean for the U.S. labor force and economy.

Read: H-1B reduced computer-programmer employment by up to 11%, study finds

And: Trump aide says ‘all options’ on the table for immigration policy

The Thursday walkout brought out sparring sides on the topic of immigration reform:

It wasn’t immediately clear if hourly workers employed by Andrés, Bayless or other participating restaurants would be paid for their nonwork day. At least one of Andrés’s restaurants, China Chilcano, in Washington, D.C., will remain open “so those employees that want to work ... have a place to do it,” the chef said, according to NPR. Andrés’s restaurants in Las Vegas and Los Angeles will also remain open, Eater.com reported.

‘We have over 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. 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.’

José Andrés

It’s estimated that one in four restaurant workers is foreign-born, according to an analysis of census data conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Many farm workers are immigrants, some in the U.S. without legal authorization.

It’s this status—which Andrés likened to “a new form of slavery, to a degree”—that leads advocates to insist immigration reform be given priority in Washington.

Rachel Koning Beals is a MarketWatch news editor in Chicago.

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