Over 30 kitchen and support staff at a restaurant in Baltimore resigned from their jobs after an ICE agent demanded a list of workers and their documentation last Thursday, the restaurant’s owner has revealed.
Gene Singleton, the owner of the restaurant, The Boathouse Canton, initially didn’t think the visit was a big deal. In a letter posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Singleton said that an official from the Homeland Security Investigations arm of ICE came to deliver a request “requiring all employment files be turned over in order to review I-9 immigration documentation.”
But as Singleton told the Washington Post, news of the ICE agent’s visit spread through the kitchen and made workers concerned.
Their fear is not unfounded. Last month, ICE agents ate breakfast at a restaurant before detaining three of its workers, and ICE’s director recently said that all undocumented immigrants should be “worried” and “uncomfortable.”
“Based on our Government’s current practices of targeting the Hispanic Community, properly documented and potentially less than properly documented are all fearful of being separated from their families, many with small children,” Singleton wrote in the letter. “Many went home to pack up and leave. This was a sad, emotional, tragic event.”
Singleton told the Post he believes that every worker was vetted properly, and is in the United States legally. The Post reported that Singleton plans on providing ICE the requested information.
The restaurant remains open, with a limited menu and a smaller staff. Still, a photo on the restaurant’s Facebook page shows a packed patio. Singleton said in the letter that the restaurant is also starting a “Heart of the House” fund for the workers who resigned from their jobs in response to the ICE agent’s visit “to assist our displaced families with their transition.”
“I’ve never been here before. Having seen this business’s heart felt response lets me know it is somewhere I will patronize,” one user commented on Facebook.
Despite these strong statements of solidarity, not everyone supports the restaurant.
“This is America where the rule of law means something, not some third world shithole where the law means nothing,” one person wrote on Facebook. “You need to get your act together and figure out how to start actually playing by the rules, like the rest of have to. Disgrace.”
Singleton seemed unaware of ICE’s sweeping assaults on immigrant communities. “I understood the immigrant community was not going to be targeted aggressively,” he told the Post. “Either I misunderstood or they changed.”
A ICE spokesperson told me that the agency does not comment on possible investigations, but that the Homeland Security Investigations arm of ICE may deliver a “‘Notice of Inspection’ if they receive intelligence that an employer is violating federal law as it pertains to hiring practices.” According to the spokesperson, last fiscal year, ICE investigated over 1,200 businesses for I-9 violations.
I’ve also reached out to Singleton, and will update if I hear back.