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A crucial component of hospitality industry

HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS

When it comes to immigrant labor, restaurants and hotels are front and center, particularly in New Mexico.

About 22 percent, or more than one in five workers, employed in the state’s art, entertainment, accommodation and food service industries are immigrants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And at some individual businesses, the ratio is much higher.

At the Inn of the Governors in Santa Fe, for example, about one-third of the hotel’s 75 employees are immigrants, said General Manager Sam Gerberding.

“The immigrant population is profoundly important,” Gerberding said. “Those workers fill in the gaps for us. They do the jobs that we find others don’t want to do.”

Immigrants are especially prevalent among housekeeping staff, said Cynthia Fresquez, general manager at the DoubleTree Hotel in Albuquerque. Only about 10 percent of the DoubleTree’s 105 employees are immigrants, but most local hotels employ a lot more foreign-born labor in their housekeeping departments.

“I would say easily 50 percent of that industry workforce is immigrant,” Fresquez said. “They’re the hardest workers. We always say, without that housekeeping staff, our businesses can’t operate.”

At restaurants nationwide, more than 23 percent of all employees, and about 45 percent of chefs, are immigrants, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“A big part of the labor force in restaurants are people from Mexico and other countries south of the border,” said Fernando Olea, owner of Sazón in Santa Fe, a Mexican restaurant with 25 employees, about 30 percent of them immigrants. “I don’t know how restaurants would be able to operate without them.”

Like all industry sectors, restaurant and hotel operators say the vast majority of businesses carefully check immigrant documents before hiring. But, beyond that, legal status can be hard to verify.

“In our industry, we do our best to make sure people are here legally and that they have the papers to prove it,” said New Mexico Restaurant Association CEO Carol Wight. “But you don’t always know.”

Industry leaders are concerned about potential mass deportations and possibly workplace raids, Wight said.

Fear already grips the local workforce. “Everyone is scared, not just undocumented immigrants, because many believe even legal residents will be sent back or not allowed to travel,” Olea said. “Everyone went into panic when the federal government announced new immigration regulations, and many still are.”

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