Marvin Joseph—The Washington Post/Getty Images

In a new Washington Post op-ed, the chef writes, "Walls will not make America safer or greater.”

Gowri Chandra
January 19, 2018

“President Trump, if you are reading this: Back in 2016 you told me in a phone conversation that you wanted to hear more about my views on immigration,” wrote chef José Andrés in The Washington Post on Thursday. “We haven’t spoken in a while. So let me say this here: Walls will not make America safer or greater.”

The restaurant juggernaut, famous for his humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico and his political tweets (as well as his veritable restaurant empire), took his opinions to a more formal platform this week, penning an op-ed.

“I came to the United States from Spain in 1991 with an E-2 visa and big ambitions,” writes Spanish-born Andrés. “Despite the many hardships of being a new immigrant, life was relatively easy for me — in no small part because of my fair skin and blue eyes.”

“Let me be frank,” he goes on to say. “The administration is throwing families and communities into crisis for no good reason. This is not what people of faith do. It’s not what pragmatic people do. It’s not what America was built on.”

Specifically, he calls out the administration’s January 8 announcement that nearly 200,000 Salvadoran refugees will have their Temporary Protection Status revoked. Thus far, TPS has allowed them to stay in the U.S. legally after many fled their country after the devastating 2001 earthquake. Seventeen years later, many have children who are U.S. citizens and consider the U.S. their homes. With this new ruling, they’ll have to leave the country by September 2018.

Other refugees facing definite deportation in coming years include those from Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua; the fate of those from Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen and Somalia hangs in the balance.

Andrés, who owns 27 restaurants across the country, stands to lose a large number of employees due to these TPS decisions. One such employee is Manuel, a Salvadoran immigrant who’s worked at Andrés’s D.C. restaurant Jaleo since 2001. For obvious reasons, his last name is omitted from the article. “I just want to work to be able to send my two American-born children to university; I want them to have a better life than mine,” Manuel is quoted as saying. He faces deportation next September.

“Immigrants, including Salvadorans and other Central Americans, make up more than half of the staff at my restaurants, and we simply could not run our businesses without them,” Andrés writes. And the economic hit to the industry as a whole? Staggering, he says. “Because restaurants are among the main employers of these immigrants (along with construction companies, landscape businesses and child-care services), the restaurant industry stands to be particularly hard hit… With national employment at 4 percent, there aren’t enough U.S.-born workers to take their place — or cover the employment needs of a growing economy.”

According to the Center for American Progress, the removal of TPS workers from the U.S. would cause a loss in $164 billion dollars in gross domestic product over the next ten years, Andrés cites.

Like many opposed to TPS revocation, he’s plugging for pathways to permanent residency through green cards and eventual citizenship. He also recommends revolving visas, which allow immigrants to work for a few months and then return home, bringing back their earnings to their families.

“President Trump knows full well the value of temporary visas,” he writes. “From his family’s winery in Virginia to his construction projects in New York, he has hired many foreign workers to build his businesses.”

Andrés pulled out of collaborating with Trump on one of these projects—a restaurant deal at the Trump International Hotel in D.C.—after Trump called Mexicans rapists in June of 2015. The Trump Organization sued; it was finally settled last year, with Trump saying he was “glad” to “move forward as friends.”

Andrés’s tweets have been less than friendly since then, but he kept this op-ed focused on the issues. “As an employer and friend of Salvadorans, Haitians and incredible people of many other nationalities, I hope Congress can work with the administration to change course on immigration policy,” he writes. 

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