A longtime Kingston resident and restaurateur slated to be sent back to his native Mexico because of immigration was honored with a certificate of appreciation at a City Hall ceremony Tuesday.
Santos is co-owner of “Just for You,” a small restaurant serving authentic cuisine from his home state of Oaxaca that stands just across Broadway from City Hall and HealthAlliance Hospital’s Broadway Campus. In January, Santos made local headlines with an emotional description of his plight at a crowded and contentious meeting of the Common Council to weigh a controversial “sanctuary city” resolution. Santos won sympathy even from opponents of the resolution when he described how he would have to leave behind his 13-year-old son and give up the business he had worked for for years, cooking in other people’s kitchens.
“Everybody talks about justice, but sometimes justice only sees black and white,” said Santos told the crowd. “But there is that little bit of gray.”
Santos, 42, said that he learned the distinctive culinary traditions of his home state helping his mother in the kitchen and on the family farm. He crossed the border illegally in 1999 and worked in restaurants in Connecticut before coming to New York and settling in Kingston, where he married an American woman and in 2013 opened his own eatery. His troubles began a few years ago when he applied for legal residency. Immigration authorities told him that DUI convictions in 2003 and 2005 made him ineligible for a green card. After a lengthy process of appeal and verification of his identity, immigration authorities told Santos he must leave the country by June 20 or face arrest and deportation.
On Tuesday, Mayor Steve Noble and Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3) honored Santos with a certificate of appreciation. Noble said that the award recognized Santos as an early investor in the revitalization of the Broadway corridor and a longtime valued community member.
Also read was a written statement from Santos’ landlord and friend Matt Colangelo. Colangelo noted that Santos has received over 170 letters of support and offers of help following his testimony at the council.
“While the outcome wasn’t what we had all hoped for, this community has demonstrated what it means to be a sanctuary city by providing Leo with a piece of its’ heart and has made it clear that love, not hate is what makes Kingston great,” wrote Colangelo.
Less than an hour after the ceremony, Santos was back across the street and in his kitchen preparing bowls of pozole and Oaxacan-style burritos for a handful of late-evening diners. The certificate of appreciation was tacked up by the cash register while a small handmade sign on the countertop read, “Love Makes Kingston Great.”
Santos said that he would miss Kingston’s welcoming atmosphere where strangers said hello and regular customers became friends. As for the future, Santos said, he planned to continue doing what he knows best.
“I’m going to do the same thing as here, cooking and trying to promote the gastronomy of Oaxaca, from there.”