Restaurateurs across the country are stepping up to publicly share their stories about how immigration affects their business, and taking part in grassroots advocacy to urge the U.S. Senate to pass legislation it currently is debating.
At a June 13 press conference in Phoenix, Wildflower Bread Company CEO Louis Basile Jr. said comprehensive immigration reform is critical for restaurants and their employees. “Simply put, there are not enough documented workers to staff and grow my business even though we offer industry-leading compensation and benefits.” The press conference was covered by Newstalk 550 KFYI.
“As a business owner and founder, I know the need for immigration reform is urgent,” Basile said. “Our present system does not work, and until it is fixed we are going to continue to struggle to find workers to both maintain and expand our business.”
In Columbia, S.C., the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association joined other employers in a media event in front of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to press for immigration reform. There, the Partnership for a New American Economy announced results of a new poll of voters in 29 states showing widespread support for immigration reform. An average of nearly 68 percent of the likely voters polled across the 29 states said they strongly or somewhat support the Senate legislation. An overwhelming 87 percent said it was very or somewhat important that the United States fix its immigration system this year. The South Carolina event was covered by several local media outlets, including WIS TV, The State newspaper in Columbia, WACH (FOX), and Patch in Lexington and Charleston.
South Carolina restaurateur Ruben Montalvo, an immigrant from Mexico who now owns the Cantinflas Restaurant and Bar and two other businesses in Greenville, spoke at the press conference about how business owners and immigrants could benefit from comprehensive immigration reform.
“I am a living example of what can happen when immigrants are given the same opportunities as everyone else,” Montalvo said in an interview. “If we did not have the job openings and the demand for labor, these employees would go to Canada or somewhere else.”
Several state restaurant associations held media and advocacy events Thursday in support of the Senate’s immigration reform bill. The Texas Restaurant Association led a group of restaurateurs to meet with Gov. Rick Perry to discuss immigration, placed opinion pieces in local media and issued a press release highlighting the poll results. The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association participated in a press conference, issued a press release and participated in online town hall meetings to promote common-sense immigration reform. The NCRLA also has produced an immigration toolkit for members. State restaurant associations in Maine, Indiana and Wyoming took part in media outreach efforts. Indiana restaurateurs participated in a conference call with media that was covered by the Courier-Journal.
Debate began this week on the Senate’s immigration reform bill, which was authored by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators. The bill contains three key National Restaurant Association priorities: a clear path to legalization, national implementation of the employee verification system known as E-Verify, and increased border security that won’t harm legal travel and tourism. A vote on the bill is possible before the Senate recesses on July 28. The legislation is perhaps the best opportunity since 1986 for the nation to enact significant, bipartisan immigration reforms. The NRA, which has advocated for immigration reform for decades, is calling on restaurateurs to contact their senators and representatives in Congress to share their stories about how immigration impacts their businesses. Letters to the editor and op-eds in local news media also are powerful tools for spreading the word about the importance of the issue. Tom Boucher, NRA board member and owner of several restaurants in New Hampshire, recently had a letter published in the Laconia Daily Sun. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published an opinion piece by Ed Lump, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.
The NRA has launched a new website dedicated to immigration reform, www.AmericaWorksHere.org/Immigration. The site offers a number of tools that make it easy for owners and operators to make their voices heard on the need for reform.