About a quarter of New York City speaks Spanish, but one man did not want to hear it from the staff making his lunch at a Midtown Manhattan spot on Tuesday. A video of his racist insults and assumptions, coupled with a threat to call immigration officials to have the Spanish speakers deported, went from viral to virulent on the internet Wednesday.
The video shows a middle-aged, athletic-looking white man berating both customers and a manager at a cavernous fast-casual restaurant called Fresh Kitchen. “Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English,” he says. “It’s America.” He adds: “I will be following up, and my guess is they’re not documented. So my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country.”
He said that he was paying for their “welfare.”
Officials in New York, which as a so-called sanctuary city limits its cooperation with immigration enforcement officials, quickly denounced the man’s action. Mayor Bill de Blasio reminded people on Twitter that New York was a welcoming city, where 8.6 million residents speak more than 200 languages. The city’s Commission on Human Rights, which investigates discrimination and harassment, said in a statement that it was “aware of the matter.” And the city’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, Bitta Mostofi, said in an interview that incidents like this, “while horrifying, are not commonplace — they also don’t belong in our city.”
Even the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, distanced itself from the man’s threat to call the office. But a spokeswoman acknowledged that all undocumented immigrants are subject to deportation.
“ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tip Line is solely for the purposes of making legitimate reports of suspected criminal activity. The Tip Line should not be used as an instrument to intimidate or harass,” said Rachael Yong Yow, the spokeswoman for the New York field office of ICE.
Still, she added, “all of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Some social media users said they knew the man in the video’s identity, though The Times was unable to immediately confirm it. He was said to be a lawyer who founded his own firm, but he did not respond to a call and email seeking comment. At the office of the firm identified on social media, an administrator firmly asked a reporter to leave because it was private property. The firm’s website advertises services in Spanish, French, Chinese and Hebrew.
Last year, Thomas D. Homan, the acting director ICE, warned anyone living in the country illegally that they were deportable: “You should look over your shoulder,” he said.
Across the country, ICE increased arrests domestically in 2017 by 41 percent. In New York, since Mr. Trump took office in 2017, the immigration arrests of undocumented people without criminal records has more than tripled.
Juan Cartagena, the President of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a civil rights advocacy group, was outraged that the man in the video assumed that because people speak Spanish they are not citizens.
“There is alignment here between what this person thinks ICE can do and what ICE has been doing,” Mr. Cartagena said.
Daniel Victor contributed reporting.