Want to fix labor shortage hurting your local restaurants? Immigrants get the job done

·3 min read

My first job in a restaurant was in 1967 in Chicago, as a dishwasher at a Mexican place called Las Glorias de Pancho Villa. I worked overnight, 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

One Friday, I thought to myself: This is a job I do not want to do again.

I had come to the U.S. on a visitor permit. I’ve worked in hospitality since, managing and even owning restaurants. And any time an employee left, there was always another Mexican worker to take over. It did not matter what the position was.

And it’s still true. The solution to the labor shortage hurting our restaurants, stores and other businesses is right there at the southern border. But too many people and politicians want to close the door entirely to immigration.

Most of the people I talk to have the same view of the labor problem: It all has to do with stimulus money, unemployment pay or child credits.

But what they do not understand is that the hard jobs — dishwashing, busing tables, cooking, construction yard maintenance — have seldom been done by legal residents or U.S. citizens.

Amado, right, while working at Tulcingo Mexican restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, on March 24, 2019. Most of Amados time is spent between his underground home and work at the restaurant. (Ryan Christopher Jones/The New York Times)
Amado, right, while working at Tulcingo Mexican restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, on March 24, 2019. Most of Amados time is spent between his underground home and work at the restaurant. (Ryan Christopher Jones/The New York Times)

We Mexicans come to work, most of the time taking two or three jobs to make enough for the trip here and support our families back home. It used to cost between $1,500 and $3,000 to make the trip. Now, it can be up to $15,000, with no guarantees that the crossing will be safe or successful.

The only person I know who came last year spent $9,500 and had to walk for 3 nights.

After I became a citizen, I have always voted Republican until President Barack Obama. Then came candidate Donald Trump, and one of the first things out of his mouth was: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Many people do not understand how offensive that was. Of course, we have bad apples like every other group, but the demand for drugs is so large that there will always be somebody willing to make easy money.

People often say, don’t you see all the Central American caravans and all those Haitian people crossing the border?

The truth is most of those people won’t be let in, and the ones who make it will easily adapt to the American way: Work hard and you will have everything you have always dreamed about.

And people in dire need will always find a way to go over, under or through any wall.

It saddens me that every Republican going for a higher office has to say, first thing, that our south border has never been so weak. The truth is that it has never been so hard to come to the U.S. illegally. Not because of any wall but because of the criminal element.

It’s so profitable for the people who control the border towns that mostly well-off immigrants can make it, and that’s not who we depend on for the hard jobs.

We Mexicans have been coming to America for generations to work and make money, for a better future and better opportunities. We never came for handouts or benefits. It’s almost impossible for a person here illegally to get any benefits.

But most pay taxes toward Social Security, Medicare and unemployment, as well as income taxes. And few will ever collect. Where does that money go?

Mexicans have always been the reliable, hard working and loyal employees that American business have depended on. Most become Americanized and love it.

Until we recognize that reality, we won’t be able to solve the labor shortage hindering our businesses.

Jesus “Jesse” Sanchez is a longtime Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant owner and manager.

Jesus “Jesse” Sanchez is a longtime Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant owner and manager.
Jesus “Jesse” Sanchez is a longtime Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant owner and manager.