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Chefs José Andrés, Andrew Zimmern on immigration and food in 'What's Eating America'

"Immigrants, migrants, documented and undocumented people touch every plate of food," said Zimmern, host of the new show.
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Chefs José Andrés and Andrew Zimmern criticize President Donald Trump's immigration policies on the premiere of "What's Eating America," a new documentary series exploring the intersection of food and politics.

"Right now the political discourse is making us take sides, but trying to find answers gives me a sense of understanding of where are we going and what do we have to do to change everything that's happening," said Andrés about the current immigration system. "Because let me tell you, what's happening right now it doesn't work."

The show's first episode, which airs on MSNBC Sunday night, kicks off showing how rollbacks on certain legal immigration programs such as H2-B and H2-A guest worker visas, among others, have impacted the lives of immigrant and migrant farmworkers, and, by extension, parts of the nation's food system.

"If you take those workers out of our food system, it literally stops. Immigrants, migrants, documented and undocumented people touch every plate of food in America, at every single stage," Zimmern, the new show's host, told NBC News. "We don't have a system that can support feeding this country without those workers."

Zimmern met Aubrey Vincent, the co-owner of a family-run crab processor in Maryland, who said her business depends on hiring migrant workers through the H2-B visa program, which is used specifically to hire temporary nonagricultural workers, in order to be able to "supplement the American labor we have."

"For our community — I think our last census was like 165 people — I hire 105," Vincent told Zimmern. "Based on the Census, every single person would need to be unemployed and be interested in this job to even begin to fill the job openings."

Zimmern also invited Andrés to be a guest on the show's first episode, which features an on-camera interview with Jesús Lira, the Mexican banquet chef who first told The Washington Post that the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, hired him knowing he was undocumented.

Lira, who worked at the club for a decade, told Andrés that at least one of Trump's accountants facilitated the process of hiring people like him with forged documents.

"It's about time we pass immigration reform. It's about time we tell these stories and that's why it's so important that every American, putting aside political parties, do justice," Andrés told NBC News. "We have 11 million undocumented people. It's about time that them, plus the 'Dreamers,' become part of the 'American Dream.'"

The show documents how immigration policies take a toll on a community of people from the Marshall Islands who are living in Arkansas and working at a Tyson chicken-processing factory because they are considered neither immigrants nor U.S. citizens in the eyes of the government.

Zimmern also interviewed farmworkers in California who pick strawberries used to feed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and families in Morristown, Tennessee, who were separated after Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted one of the biggest workplace raids in a decade, detaining 97 people at a meatpacking plant.

According to Zimmern, "we know the restaurant and food community is going to be more effective" if human immigration policies are put in place.

"We know it's going to affect every meal that you have and every ingredient that you buy at the supermarket. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when, and we are already seeing the first trickles in the labor shortage right now," he said.

"What’s Eating America" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on MSNBC with a special two-hour long episode.

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