With immigration reform taking the headlines as of late, there has been great debate over the rights and respect owed to the U.S. immigrant population. But long before, it was widely agreed that the term “illegal immigrant” is hugely offensive and politically incorrect. So it’s not surprising that one restaurant has caused public outrage by referencing the term in its name: “Illegal Pete’s.”
Illegal Pete’s is a Mexican restaurant chain that was established by 43-year-old Pete Turner almost two decades ago. When the first eatery was opened, the phrase did not have the political charge that it does today, as Turner told The New York Times.
“I never intended it to be about undocumented immigrants,” Turner said. “Never. Not once.”
As Turner explained to the source, the restaurant name was inspired by the name of a bar that he came across in a book. He was also motivated by the fact that his father is named Pete and has a bit of a rebellious nature.
While the chain has been around for almost 20 years, it has only recently come under public scrutiny with the opening of the seventh establishment in Fort Collins, Colorado. It has spurred upset from the locals as well as national immigration rights groups, who have called for Turner to change the name of his chain. About 10 percent of the population in Fort Collins is Hispanic. Another Illegal Pete’s is scheduled to open in Tucson, Arizona, in summer 2015.
In support of the name
Many people are coming to Turner’s defense on the issue. As a liberal-minded, pro-immigrant businessperson, he has been an active voice in support of immigration reform. One Illegal Pete’s employee, Milton Guevara, has come forward to defend Turner. The Salvadoran immigrant started working at the Boulder location when he was 14 and, under Turner’s guidance, moved up from dishwasher to general manager. Additionally, Turner helped Guevara obtain a green card and is now assisting him in applying for American citizenship.
Though Turner said he seriously considered the other side’s argument, he does not intend to change the name of his chain, as the term “illegal” has no immigrant-related roots in this context. Many customers seem to feel the same way, as the Fort Collins establishment was packed on its first day open.
“There was no debate for us,” customer Brett Warr told The New York Times. “It’s not called ‘the illegal immigrant.'”