Councilman Kenney Bashes Immigration Laws at Restaurant Summit

Councilman Jim Kenney

Councilman Jim Kenney

Who would have expected that yesterday’s Restaurant Industry Summit would give Councilman Jim Kenney a chance to get fired up about the immigration policies of Philadelphia, of Pennsylvania, and of the United States of America?

But there he was at Tequilas, the popular Center City Mexican restaurant, going off on the injustice of treating immigrant workers harshly—“whether documented or undocumented, I really don’t care,” he told an audience of nonprofit reps, restaurant workers, owners and media. “After 9/11, everyone became a ‘terrorist’—including that Mexican guy on a bike going from his lawn care job to his restaurant job. He is no threat to me, whatsoever. He is no threat to this country, whatsoever.”

The Philadelphia Restaurant Opportunity Center convened the summit to release its new report on the state of Philadelphia’s restaurant industry, titled Behind the Kitchen Door. The report notes that while Philadelphia is, indeed, experiencing a restaurant renaissance—restaurant jobs have increased in Philly by 40 percent over the last decade—immigrant workers are serving as the backbone. There are now 113,000 Philadelphians who work in food service, and about 25 percent of them are foreign-born. Over 50 percent of the immigrants contacted for the study admitted they were not documented—and only 5 percent said they were.

According to the councilman, that’s just fine. “There’s no reason in the world why an ICE agent should be waiting in a police station when a person is being brought in because they were drunk or because a person was brought in because they were smoking a joint,” Kenney continued. “When they pull up to the station house and there’s an ICE agent waiting there, something is wrong.”

He’d change things if he could, he said: “If I were mayor of the city, we wouldn’t participate with ICE, whatsoever. We wouldn’t be involved in bars. We wouldn’t be doing any of that stuff.”

A former dishwasher, busboy and bartender in the 70s, Kenney said he gets passionate about immigration issues because he thinks of how the Irish experienced the same sort of discrimination as those of Mexican and Latino descent today. Pennsylvania, he said, “is a terrible state in terms of a reputation, with [State Rep.] Daryl Metcalfe and some of those other lunatics in Harrisburg. I would wish that every anti-immigrant bill they pass, they would exempt the city of Philadelphia—and the good [immigrants kicked out of other cities] would come here.”

Editor’s note: PhillyNow will be offering more perspectives on the Behind the Kitchen Door report over the course of the next week.

4 Responses to “ Councilman Kenney Bashes Immigration Laws at Restaurant Summit ”

  1. Diane Dugan says:

    The difference with the Irish, they were here legally. The illegal immigrant has cost us billions that should have gone to a citizen for education, housing and health care. Everyone working illegally in this Country is taking a job that an unemployed person could do and would be paying taxes on money earned. We the taxpayer are fleeced for the welfare of people with no right to be here.

  2. Ray says:

    And why is it that certain employers in landscaping and food & beverage continue to employ undocumented immigrants without consequences? Every job I have held required me to provide documentation proving I could legally work here or I would not have been hired.

  3. Christopher says:

    Diane Duggin assumes that Irish immigrants are/were here legally. Anyone one living in Boston can confirm that Diane is making an incorrect and blanket statement.

  4. Diane Dugan says:

    Lol Christopher, you read an article that should raise your blood pressure because of the defense by elected officials for foreign national invaders and you attack me. The Irish that immigrated generations ago arrived by boat that was met by Immigration and Customs, many were sent back.

    Today there are fifty thousand illegal Irish that the government numbers count but we know that our government would’t lie. I want them deported as well, no one that broke the visa law should stay since they show their contempt for the rule of law.

    Until we have full employment of citizens, all immigration should be cut. We have the right to choose the people to join our society, the migrant that crashes through the door has no “right” to stay. Deportation is not a punishment, they are sent to the Country they are citizens of.

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