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What Restaurant Workers Need to Know About Immigration Raids

All workers, even those who are undocumented, have legal rights

WASHINGTON, DC - Immigration reform activists protest at the White House on May 1, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

Last weekend, a number of reports and rumors of immigration raids surfaced in media outlets from Texas to New York City, with a few occurring in restaurants. Restaurant owners and staff in LA, NYC, Miami, and Boston were on high alert: It’s no secret that the U.S. restaurant industry — not to mention the farming and food processing industries — depends on immigrant workers, and that much of it comes in the form of unauthorized labor. But since President Trump took office and signed two related executive orders related to immigration policy, officials have greater authority to pursue and prosecute a wider range of unauthorized workers.

According to Randy Capps, director of research of U.S. Programs at the Migration Policy Institute, these raids may seem more frequent of late, but they probably aren’t. “Though Trump’s new executive order may embolden officers, the fact remains that these raids are labor-intensive,” Capps explains. “The order authorized the department to hire new officers, but until Congress signs off on the funding, it is unlikely that raids will immediately increase in frequency.”

Still, Capps notes, the document signed by Trump on January 25, Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, broadened the already high level of immigration enforcement President Obama put in place in 2014. “Enforcement priorities have changed,” Capps says. “So people that were picked up last week may not have fit the profile from the Obama administration,” which specified that individuals targeted had committed a crime. The new order broadened those rules to include any individuals considered suspect.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office confirmed that 608 people had been arrested in raids over the past week, and clarified the department’s methodology. “The focus of these targeted enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” she said as part of a official statement.

Restaurant owners and operators have a number of options when it comes to immigration raids. They need not let officers inside their business unless the officer has a warrant specifically granting them access. Employers can also advise their employees to remain silent during a raid, and are under no obligation to provide any paperwork to officials, again, unless a warrant specifies.

Eater spoke with Josh Stehlik, a supervising attorney at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) to get a breakdown on what rights restaurant employees have in light of the news of new immigration raids. NILC has guidelines for all workers on its site. Here’s a list specifically for the restaurant industry:


1. Have the right to remain silent.

Employees may refuse to speak to immigration officers. Employees do not have to answer any questions. According to Stehlik, if immigration officers (or local police authorized by ICE to act as immigration enforcement) “do not have a warrant that names or otherwise specifies a person or people employed at a business, employees at a restaurant are under no obligation to speak with officers.”

If an official enters a place of business with a warrant that “lists the name Joe Smith, but then asks another employee, John Doe, about his immigration status, Doe should not respond,” Stehlik explains. “If Doe is not on a warrant he is not under suspicion for arrest, but if he says something about his immigration status or anything that might raise an officer’s suspicions, under the new executive order, he could also be arrested or detained.”

The fourth (which protects against unreasonable searches of persons or property) and fifth (requiring due process of law) amendments protect all workers in the U.S. — regardless of immigration status — from unlawful questioning, accusations, and arrest. These rights exist whether a person is confronted in their home or public, such as in a place of employment.

NILC recommends that employees stay silent or say they are exercising their right to remain silent. Employees should not volunteer information such as where they were born or how they entered the U.S. Employees may also choose to print a Know-Your-Rights-Card to present to authorities if approached or apprehended.

2. Have a right to speak with a lawyer.

3. Should not sign anything.

Emboldened by President Trump’s recent statements, ICE officials may attempt to try to get the accused to sign away their rights. Stehlik reiterates NILC’s stance that employees should not sign anything unless they know what they are signing.

4. May decline a mobile finger print scan when presented with a scanner.

... provided said employee is not named in a warrant.

5. Should carry valid immigration documents when appropriate.

Employees should not carry documentation from another country, which, if discovered, could be used as evidence against them.

Statement From Secretary Kelly On Recent ICE Enforcement Actions [Official]
Immigration Agents Arrest 600 People Across U.S. in One Week [NYT]

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