Restaurant News

Metro Phoenix Chefs React to the DACA Ruling

"From the fields to the kitchen, chances are the food you eat was touched by immigrant hands," says chef Silvana Salcido Esparza.
"From the fields to the kitchen, chances are the food you eat was touched by immigrant hands," says chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Evie Carpenter

It’s no secret that undocumented immigrants power much of the food scene in America, and for many of the top chefs in Arizona, the DACA ruling hits close to home.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that the Trump administration will be axing DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, set up by former President Barack Obama in 2012, which protects some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids from deportation.

Immigrants must have a clean record to qualify for DACA, which allows them to, among other benefits, obtain work permits. Indeed, nine in 10 DACA immigrants are working taxpayers. Critics on both sides of the aisle have been spit-roasting Trump for this decision.

“I don’t even know that it’s political more than it’s humanitarian,” says Chris Bianco, who last night paused his work on the line at Tratto to comment on DACA's proposed rescission. “People should be recognized for the positive impact they’ve made on our communities.”

The news from Washington hit Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis hard. “I have a couple of key employees who are in the DACA program,” he says. “One came here when she was 4. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

The Arizona Restaurant Association released a statement ardently opposing Trump's decision.

"Arizona’s restaurant industry relies heavily on a diverse workforce that includes the need for a permanent solution to the multitude of individuals that want to join the U.S. workforce," the statement reads. "Therefore, the ARA strongly supports a legislative solution for DACA and encourages Congress to address immigration reform."

Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe replied quickly to an email inquiry.

Esparza quoted the Pew Research that revealed that some 1.1 million undocumented immigrants work in American restaurants. While she acknowledges that they are not all DACA immigrants, she questions who could possibly replace this massive workforce powering our country’s kitchens. But for her, it is more than the business implications, it's personal.

“I have family members that are enrolled in DACA and now we all live in fear of watching them be deported to a country they know nothing about firsthand,” she writes. “My heart is just broken for the DACA community.”

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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy