Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday announced the federal government would dissolve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in six months, and that could impact Chicago’s restaurants and others across the country. DACA, started in 2012 by President Barack Obama, protects unauthorized immigrants who arrived to the US as children from deportation, and allows them to obtain a driver’s license to pursue employment; beneficiaries of the program have been dubbed “DREAMers.” Those DREAMers include Rick Rodriguez, co-owner of WHISK in Ukrainian Village and Son of a Butcher by WHISK in Logan Square.
Rodriguez arrived from Mexico in America in 1991 when he was 5 years old. He met his wife, Rebecca, in high school. She’s an American citizen, and when they married Rodriguez became a documented immigrant. But regardless of his status, he’s proud to have started a small business. He’s adamant that anyone who has paid their taxes and contribute to America should be able to stay in the country.
“You know what angers me?” Rodriguez said. “It angers me that so many people think this is the right thing to do, but it’s not.”
Rodriguez’s restaurants are neighborhood spots serving a variety of items, including smoked meats, wings, and tacos. They have a burger and bacon special dedicated to red-blooded American Ron Swanson, a TV character from Parks and Recreation. It’s hard to say what will happen in six months. Fifteen states, including Illinois, are suing the federal government over ending DACA. But if the act is dissolved, Rodriguez thinks the back of the house at various restaurants across the country will see a hit. It’s already hard to fill those posts, doing less-than-glamorous jobs. Many of them are filled by Latinos, no matter their immigration statuses. For example, younger brother David Rodriguez — a partner at WHISK — was born in America.
“I think it’s going to be harder for us — I don’t want to say we can’t provide good service,” Rick Rodriguez said. “It’s just going to take a toll on a lot of people, and it definitely might take some time adjusting.”
Rodriguez’s friend, Chris de La Cueva, is the executive chef at Rhyme or Reason, a restaurant/bar in Wicker Park that opened in Februrary. De La Cueva is careful to judge what might happen. Rhyme or Reason is trying to establish an identity, and any squeeze poses a challenge.
“We’re in a different neighborhood — there’s a lot more families in Wicker Park,” De La Cueva said. “Maybe I’ll have to change our menu to be more family focused or something.”
Diana Dávila, the chef/owner of Mi Tocaya Antojeria in Logan Square was born in Chicago and her family’s from Mexico. Her highly-acclaimed Mexican restaurant opened in March and staffs 22 employees, one of which is a DREAMer. Ending DACA isn’t a positive move for those who like diverse food choices. Britain saw a shortage of South Asian cooks thanks to the xenophobia fueled by Brexit. She spoke about her friends from a tiny town in Oaxaca, Mexico and how they brought their food back to America: “That’s something that could disappear,” Dávila said.
Dávila would like allies to go beyond protests like February’s “Day Without Immigrants.” She urged people to have difficult talks with family members who disagree. She also noted that most cooks don’t go to college and that could make them vulnerable to deportation. Those eligible for DACA benefits need to be in school or have graduated. Dávila did not excel in high school, and didn’t go to college. She can relate.
“It’s not like I’m getting the people who want to be an accountant and also cook for 40 hours a week,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in the restaurant world.”
Rodriguez wants to open more WHISKs, but this may stall those plans. Even though he’s not his biggest fan, Rodriguez even complimented Mayor Rahm Emanuel in helping ensure Chicago is a Sanctuary City. Even a little protection helps in this current political climate.
“Immigrants help the economy,” Rodriguez said. “Not every immigrant is a rapist or a drug addict. It’s not like that.”
- DACA, the immigration program Trump wants to end, explained in one simple cartoon [Vox]
- DACA, explained: why Donald Trump holds the fate of a generation of immigrants in his hands [Vox]
- Meet The Rodriguez Brothers [Road to Status]
- Illinois sues Trump administration over ending DACA [Crain’s/AP]
- What Will Brexit Mean for Food in the UK? [Eater National]
- More Than 50 Chicago Restaurants, Including Rick Bayless’, Closed For Immigration Strike [Eater Chicago]
- Honey Butter Fried Chicken Joins New National Anti-Discriminatory Sanctuary Restaurant Group [Eater Chicago]