Racist Anti “Illegal Immigrant” T-Shirt Sales Soaring
The T-shirts being sold at the Taco Cid restaurant in West Columbia feature a box propped open with a stick and string as a rudimentary trap baited with two tacos. The shirts read “How to Catch an Illegal Immigrant” in red, green and white — the colors of the Mexican flag.
The shirts have raised as much ire as they have cash.
Leanne Snelgrove, 29, said the restaurant has sold about 400 of the T-shirts — each with a $37.95 price tag — since they went on display in November. Most of the sales were made through the restaurant’s website since news of the story hit the Huffington Post, CBS News and The New York Times last week.
Snelgrove — who defends the T-shirts as a political statement and denies they are racist — said the restaurant has sold shirts to customers in just about every state in the nation, and even received an order from a soldier in Kosovo. “And we sold a lot to border patrol agents in Texas,” she said. “It’s a crazy thing. This is crazy.”
The T-shirts went national after a high-school teacher snapped a picture on New Year’s Day of the restaurant’s staff wearing the shirts. The photo then made it into a story by Columbia’s alternative weekly Free Times.
Protesters began showing up last Friday, decrying the shirts as degrading and racist, and are using them as a platform in the ongoing discussion over immigration reform.
Snelgrove said she saw the T-shirt in April while visiting Key West, Fla. When she took over ownership of the restaurant from her mother, Cindy Oswald, in November, she decided to have some of the T-shirts printed up locally with her logo on the front. It was a political statement, she said, more than a money-making venture.
“I don’t see how people think it is racist,” she said. “It says ‘illegal’ immigrants and not ‘legal’ immigrants.”
In response to the protests, Snelgrove wrote on the restaurant’s website:
“As most taxpaying Americans, we do believe illegal immigrants are taxing the system we support and live under, thereby, causing us to work harder and pay more taxes in support of their illegal activities which our government has simply chosen to look the other way. Is it racist to disagree with those who are not supporting the American system?”
[According to Social Security Administration data, undocumented workers pay between $6 billion and $7 billion into the Social Security trust fund yearly. That comes on top of Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes the illegal workers pay on the more than $72 billion in wages employers reported paying to individuals without Social Security numbers in 2009—the latest data available from the Social Security Administration.
Undocumented immigrants also pay federal, state, and local sales and excise taxes on food, clothing, gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol as well as state and local property taxes.
They also tend to earn lower incomes when compared to the U.S. population. Using 2007 government data, an average undocumented immigrant family earned $36,000 a year, compared to the nearly $52,000 median income earned by an average household headed by a legal resident.]
“I think illegal immigration is out of control,” an Arizona native Don Sell said, “and the federal government doesn’t have the cojones to do anything about it. The lady’s right.”
Sell said he thought the backlash over the shirt was “hilarious. It’s a Mexican restaurant. Tacos should be on the T-shirt.”
One person who isn’t laughing is Ivan Segura. His organization, the Council of Mexicans in the Carolinas, has condemned the shirts as racist. But the organization isn’t protesting on the street.
“There is nothing funny about being deported,” he said. “There is nothing funny about being racially profiled. There is nothing funny about comparing people to animals that can be trapped. How can they say that is not degrading and racist?”
But, he added, his organization is trying to turn the discussion about the shirts into a meaningful dialogue.
“We don’t care about them selling T-shirts; it’s freedom of speech,” Segura said. “But we are hoping that this racist T-shirt will motivate people to come out in support of immigration reform. We want to channel all this energy in the right direction.”