Bill leaving BA restaurants in bind
BY PAUL TACKETT World Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
3/30/08 at 2:04 PM
Mexican food fans may soon find fewer options
An illegal immigration bill that becomes law Nov. 1 is already impacting some Mexican restaurants in Broken Arrow.
Davood Mortazavi, owner of Steak & Eggs and La Fiesta Mexican Grill, a dual-concept restaurant, said he's lost staff over news of House Bill 1804, known as the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.
"All my employees left. They all left already," Mortazavi said.
The act prohibits governmental agencies and businesses from employing or helping people without first verifying their U.S. citizenship.
Mortazavi said he and his partners have had to take over daily staff responsibilities and may close the La Fiesta part of the restaurant.
"That's how bad it is right now," he said.
Daniel Sanchez, restaurant manager for Mexico Viejo in Broken Arrow, said the Broken Arrow location has not lost business over news of the bill, but a location in Tulsa near a Hispanic area has.
"We don't have the same flow of customers that we had before (at the Tulsa location)," Sanchez said.
The Broken Arrow restaurant is having a problem finding Hispanic employees, however, he said.
"Like any other Hispanic business, we depend on those kinds of employees," Sanchez added.
Gabriela Meredith, co-founder and owner of Aguila O Sol Restaurant & Cantina, said she's lost regular customers.
Her restaurant has a birthday club program, she said, adding that many cards sent recently to Hispanic customers are being returned.
The bill states: "The State of Oklahoma finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged when public agencies within this state provide public benefits without verifying immigration status."
"... when illegal immigrants have been harbored and sheltered in this state and encouraged to reside in this state through the issuance of identification cards that are issued without verifying immigration status, these practices impede and obstruct the enforcement of federal immigration law, undermine the security of our borders, and impermissibly restrict the privileges and immunities of the citizens of Oklahoma."
"I wish they could find a way to go after the criminals," Mortazavi said.
For immigrants here illegally, but who have jobs and their children are attending school, he wishes they'd look for other solutions.
"Give them a year like a visa. See if they do well for a year and if they do, make them (a U.S. citizen)," Mortazavi said.
He says the employees who left are going to neighboring states such as Texas and Arkansas, not returning to Mexico.
Meredith thinks the bill hurts families who are here working hard, but will have little impact on immigrants who are jobless or committing crimes.
"That seems unfair to me," Meredith said.
Meredith and her co-owner and founder, Jaime Jovel, recently celebrated their first anniversary in business.
First years are always tough. They barely made it, Meredith said.
Now, with the introduction of the bill, they feel like they're starting their first year again, she said.
Mortazavi said he hopes to find some American cooks who can do Mexican.
If not, he says he'll move to a new location and offer only Steak & Eggs.