America's Restaurants Need a Permanent DACA Solution

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America's Restaurants Need a Permanent DACA Solution
Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP
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On Sept. 5, 2017, 100,000 young Americans got dressed, brushed their teeth and headed to local restaurants where they work as servers, chefs, managers and operators. It should have been like any other day. But on that day, the Trump administration announced an end date for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, kicking off a months-long national debate over the status of the 800,000 Dreamers brought here by their parents. 

Last week, a federal judge rejected the administration’s justification for ending the DACA program and created a timetable for the program’s renewal. It’s a step in the right direction, but for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, uncertainty still lingers. While DACA recipients may feel alone at times, the National Restaurant Association is standing with them – along with businesses across the country – in urging Congress and the administration to find a solution that provides a path to lawful permanent residency and avoids the economic damage that would come from a mass deportation of these young people. After all, these individuals are the backbone of every community across our nation.

Our restaurants’ DACA-eligible employees are hard-working young people early in their careers, paying their way through school or pursuing a career in the restaurant industry. Their co-workers and customers depend on them to provide delicious meals and an excellent dining experience. That teamwork defies distinctions based on immigration status or political perspective and is the engine that keeps the restaurant industry moving forward. As an industry, we understand that these people are our greatest asset.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Morning Consult confirmed that Americans on both sides of the aisle agree on the need for common-sense immigration reforms. The majority of Americans support extending temporary worker visas to employees in the restaurant and hospitality industries, as well as identifying a clear path to citizenship. Two in three Americans agree that restaurant employment gives immigrants an opportunity to gain valuable skills and fill a need in the industry.

The administration argued in court that DACA poses a threat to our national security — a claim that Judge John Bates called “so implausible that it fails even under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard.” These immigrants are here to access opportunities their parents’ countries did not offer, not to hurt Americans. The real concern is the devastating impact deporting Dreamers would have on the U.S. economy.

Restaurants across the country are expected to add 1.8 million jobs over the next decade — a 14 percent increase. Over the same period, the U.S.-born workforce is projected to grow just 10 percent. Our immigrant and DACA-eligible employees help us meet the needs of a fast-growing industry, strengthening our economy and helping restaurants better serve their customers.

Finding a permanent DACA solution is Congress’s most pressing responsibility. But we also need comprehensive immigration reform that ensures Dreamers can continue living in this country and fulfilling vital roles in our economy.

Immigration reform starts with a secure border, but we should continue to promote tourism, which accounts for one-fifth of all restaurant sales and boosts economic growth across all sectors. We also need a clear path to legalization for the more than 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. These individuals are often paying taxes and contributing to their communities but living in fear of deportation. Fixing our broken immigration system won’t be easy, but restaurants and their foreign-born employees are depending on Congress to pass responsible reforms and for the administration to support them. 

As the fabric of America, our restaurants’ workforce reflects the diversity that makes the U.S. great. In fact, 45 percent of restaurant chefs are foreign-born, as are 24 percent of restaurant managers. Legal immigrants are major contributors to America’s restaurants, and often climb the ranks to open their own restaurants and create even more jobs.

The more than 1 million restaurants in the U.S. generated almost $800 billion in sales in 2017. Behind that number is the passion and effort of 14.7 million employees, many of whom will go on to pursue careers in other industries. For them, a restaurant job is a steppingstone to a brighter future.

Whether they were born in the U.S. or brought here by a relative, every member of the industry plays a role in keeping America’s restaurants running. That’s why we stand with the Dreamers.

Cicely Simpson is the executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association.



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