In the wake of President Trump’s maligned executive orders on immigration and sanctuary cities, businesses and consumers have stepped up in opposition. Sanctuary Restaurants, a joint project between the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Presente.org, recently launched to offer support and resources to restaurant workers, employers, and consumers impacted by the new administration’s aggressive immigration policies.
After a few dozen restaurants initially signed on, momentum continues to grow. Currently more than 150 restaurants nationwide have joined together in order to ensure that all workers have the right to work without facing discrimination and harassment, establishing zero tolerance policies for sexism, racism, and xenophobia within their doors.
Unlike sanctuary cities, the legal context for Sanctuary Restaurants is more ambiguous and remains uncertain. Restaurants are private companies and there are limits to what even a large number can do to intervene on immigration status. This does not impede the movement’s significance. Though a restaurant’s membership is conveyed as a sticker in the front window, sanctuary restaurants receive crucial support from the organization, including legal resources and key information about employee rights.
As a statement, as a resource, and as a peer network, sanctuary restaurants have been vital to uniting the voice of an entire industry that relies so heavily on an immigrant workforce. The restaurant industry is one of the largest employers of immigrants in the United States, and is as a result particularly vulnerable in this uncertain political climate. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 1 in 6 restaurant workers is an immigrant. Of that figure, a significant, if difficult to quantify, proportion are undocumented.
Some restaurants, such as the Birchwood Café in Minneapolis, have faced negative attention as a result of their participation, but remain undeterred.
Sanctuary restaurants play a key role in the larger push for sustainably-sourced and healthy food, as well as social justice issues like income inequality and labor practices.
If you are a restaurant owner or employee, you can get involved by signing on or making a contribution.