A visit by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to Baltimore’s BoatHouse Canton restaurant may have ignited local debate about the immigration issue, but owner Gene Singleton said he is focused on more narrow concerns:
How to keep the business going after the sudden departure Friday of more than 30 fearful Latino workers and how to support employees he said are “like family”?
“We’re just starting the process of determining how to get the funds we are raising distributed to them,” Singleton said.
As The Brew reported on Saturday, Singleton announced the visit by immigration officials over the weekend and said the waterfront restaurant is donating a portion of receipts to help the workers who scattered after learning about it.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten, including from some people in the industry,” he said yesterday.
As for those who have vowed never to patronize his restaurant again, he said, “Well, we just don’t see them.”
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Matthew D. Bourke, said in an email he could not comment on the matter.
“We cannot confirm the existence of any investigation into the establishment you’ve referenced,” Bourke said.
“We’ve Been Careful”
But Singleton said a representative of the agency came to his business on Thursday: “The ICE man came and dropped off a request for documents.”
The next day, employees said they were “too scared to come to work,” he said. “We told them we completely understand.”
Singleton said some workers told them “horror stories.”
“They all seemed to be really fearful of being separated from their families – for good reason or for no good reason,” he said.
Singleton reiterated what he said on social media over the weekend, that the restaurant had been in compliance with the law.
“We’ve been diligent and careful about it – we’ve followed the guidance of our human resources advisors,” he said.
Why, he was asked, would people flee the workplace if they had proper documentation?
Singleton said he was reluctant to address the issue, particularly after being reached by a radio call-in show that appeared to have an anti-immigrant agenda.
“Those are legal questions . . . and my answers can be twisted around by people in the media,” he said, adding he prefers to leave the debate to others.
And to those who would say the law for employers and workers is cut-and-dried, Singleton replies that he sees the matter as more complicated.
“Any law, the way government is set up, can be open to interpretation,” he said. “And the way the [immigration] law is being enforced right now, I’m not in agreement with it.”