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‘Sanctuary Restaurants’ Look to Protect Immigrant Employees

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As a response to President Trump’s pledge to crack down on undocumented immigrants, not only have cities and churches sought sanctuary status to protect people in the country illegally from the federal government. Now, restaurants are trying to get in on the act.

Dozens of restaurants across the country are touting themselves as “sanctuary restaurants,” putting up signs that say “Sanctuary Restaurant” and “A Place at the Table for Everyone,” instituting anti-discrimination policies, and going through training that covers how to handle federal officials during a raid.

Of course, naming your establishment a “sanctuary restaurant” has no legal relevance and doesn’t protect anyone from law enforcement. What it does aim to do is create an atmosphere where immigrants can feel safe. Of course, given the lack of legal protection, one has to wonder whether a restaurant announcing sanctuary status will alert authorities that undocumented immigrants may be working there.

According to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, the organization that started the initiative, about 1.3 million restaurant workers are undocumented immigrants. They recently issued a letter asking the President to look at the issue from an economic point of view, saying that restaurants rely on immigrants for their work force.

Saru Jayaraman, a co-founder of ROC United, said to NBC News, “This is not about a restaurant harboring people in a closet. This is about creating a safe space,” adding, “Employers have a responsibility to protect their workers.”

The Sanctuary Restaurants website says they “offer support and resources to workers, restaurants, and consumers to help create the world we want to see – a world free from hate, discrimination, and harassment.”

Ben Hall, owner of a participating eatery, told NBC, “I have this one little place where I get to decide how people treat each other.” Hall said he had heard customers make racially charged remarks, which led to him signing up. “If someone has the need to insult someone … then they don’t get to participate. I’ve told them, ‘There’s another diner next door.”

[Image via WXYZ screengrab]

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