Why a Hard Working DACAmented Youth is Risking Everything to Stand Up to a Billionaire Bully
As the negative coverage surrounding Donald Trump’s inflammatory immigration policy paper continues to spill out, Liz Robbins of the New York Times lifts up a critical, yet missing, voice in the current debate.
Meet Ricardo Aca. Ricardo is an undocumented immigrant who works hard at three different jobs, including the Trump hotel in Soho. In an incredible video from New Left Media and picked up by the New York Times, Ricardo describes working as a busboy at the only restaurant at Trump Soho, and his subsequent reaction to Trump’s claim that undocumented immigrants from Mexico — hardworking immigrants like himself — are criminals.
While Ricardo realizes the risks in going public —feeling Trump’s retaliatory wrath in public or at work—he also wants to speak up for his family and community, and that’s a risk he’s willing to take for them.
Says Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “This is the true David versus Goliath story. Ricardo is putting everything on the line to stand up to a bigoted bullying billionaire who makes even the media and well-financed politicians cower. Ricardo’s story isn’t just courageous, it’s inspiring. Moreover, it’s representative of the millions of hardworking undocumented immigrants who contribute to this country every day. According to Trump’s immigration plan, Ricardo would be stripped of DACA and he and his family would be deported. At America’s Voice, we’re proud to stand with Ricardo, and stand up to ‘The Donald.’”
Ricardo Aca knew he could be fired. But he wanted the camera to roll anyway.
Mr. Aca is shown holding his cellphone watching Donald J. Trump call Mexicans who enter the United States rapists, criminals and drug dealers. Then, Mr. Aca calmly tells his story.
A slight 24-year-old Mexican immigrant who graduated from high school and community college in Queens, Mr. Aca works at the Koi SoHo restaurant, which leases space inside the Trump SoHo hotel. He made a short video with a filmmaker friend and posted it on Facebook on Monday, where it attracted more than 300,000 views in 24 hours.
“I was offended because this is not who we are, this is not who I am, this is not anybody I know who is an immigrant,” Mr. Aca said in an interview on Tuesday, wearing his Mexican national team soccer jersey.
Amid the uproar over immigration in the presidential race — marked by Mr. Trump’s inflammatory comments about Mexicans and his plan to build a wall along the border and deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country — the video ignited another debate over what it means to be legal in the United States.
“I know I could lose my job for just talking about Trump,” Mr. Aca says in the video, “but it doesn’t make me proud every day to go to work under his name.”
He described himself as an undocumented immigrant who came here at age 14. But in the video Mr. Aca did not say that he has documents that enable him to remain in the country legally. He was part of a wave of immigrants who came to the United States as children who have been granted deportation deferrals and work permits under a 2012 program.
With this legal permit, Mr. Aca has worked as a busboy for two years for the restaurant, which is not owned or operated by the Trump organization. In a brief interview in response to Mr. Aca’s video, Mr. Trump, whose immigration stance has helped vault him to the lead among Republican candidates, said: “He’s got a legal work permit. I’ve heard he does a good job. We thought he was an illegal immigrant at first.”
But while Mr. Trump was quick to point out that his companies employ only people with legal work papers, his immigration policy is far less flexible in its definition of legal status. In announcing his immigration plan in a blueprint and in various interviews, Mr. Trump said he opposed the plan that allowed Mr. Aca to stay in the country and work.
For now, Mr. Trump said he would not press Mr. Aca’s employer to punish him, though he added, “I want to check his file.”
Mr. Aca came to New York from Puebla, Mexico, with his 12-year-old sister. His mother had sought legal avenues for the family to enter the United States, applying for visas, he said, but was unsuccessful. She wound up in New York, getting a job sewing in a factory, and in 2005 arranged for her children to cross the border in Arizona.
As a teenager in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Mr. Aca steadily learned English from listening to Britney Spears songs. He graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens, and received an associate’s degree in photography at LaGuardia Community College.
He works as an assistant in the photography lab there, and splits his time working at a Williamsburg sushi restaurant, Cherry Izakaya, as a runner, and at Koi. In the video, he said he wanted his three jobs to dispel stereotypes that Mexicans are lazy.
Asked why he defined himself as undocumented in the video, Mr. Aca explained his legal uncertainty.
“I’m in the deferred action program, which I have to renew every two years,” he said. “I consider myself an undocumented immigrant still because it could just be taken away from me at any time.”
On Tuesday, the Koi restaurant group demanded that the filmmaker, Chase Whiteside, take down the video, claiming that Mr. Aca had made false and defamatory statements. The video, titled “Meet Ricardo, an undocumented immigrant who works in a Trump Hotel,” was misleading, according to Suzanne Chou, a lawyer for Koi Group, because it implied Mr. Aca was working illegally — for a Trump hotel. Koi SoHo, she said, is a “third party tenant” in the hotel.
“Our company follows the law and if you are eligible to work at Koi, you can apply,” Ms. Chou said.
But David W. Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, volunteered on Mr. Whiteside’s behalf to write a letter to the restaurant group in response. He argued that while Mr. Aca was authorized to work, he was still undocumented. He cited information on the website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services stating, “deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual.”
On Monday, shortly after the video was posted, the Koi payroll department called Mr. Aca to bring the renewal of his work permit that he said he had forgotten to submit in December. When he walked into the kitchen, he said that line cooks from Mexico and sushi chefs from Japan told him they were proud of him.
“It’s important to stand up for what I believe in and to be able to defend myself,” Mr. Aca said. “If I do work at Trump SoHo, I have the platform to send this message.”