There are an estimated 7,000 undocumented people in the county of Charlotte, North Carolina working in restaurants, bars and hotels, according to the Migration Policy Institute—nationally, about 1.3 million.
“This suggests roughly one in ten people working in hospitality positions across the city are likely undocumented,” reports Amanda Holpuch. Another estimated 17,000 undocumented people are employed by the state’s farms and fields, according to MIP.
“It’s not impossible that restaurant food in a city like Charlotte could have involved an undocumented worker at every stage – from field, to truck, to processing facility, to distribution centre, to kitchen, to the waiter placing down a plate,” notes Holpuch.
The food industry and local economy don’t only rely on undocumented workers but on undocumented diners, as well. “The protest impacted my pocket but it also impacted the pocket of North Carolina, the pocket of Charlotte,” says one kitchen manager, Chris, who employs undocumented workers, “My employees are immigrants and my customers are immigrants – my business depends on them.”
There are few routes to legal status for undocumented workers, says Holpuch, but so many businesses depend upon these workers, which is why many industry groups support the expansion of America’s temporary work visa program.