Kingston shows love for restaurateur facing deportation

Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress, Mayor Steve Noble and Alderman Bill Carey present Leo Santos with his certificate. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

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.”


There are 10 comments

  1. Will

    I wish Kingston would pass a sanctuary city law like the town of new paltz did. “Memoralizing resolutions” are not enough when it comes to people’s lives. Mayor noble and the city council should put their money where their mouths are.

  2. Carol

    Why doesnt Kingston help him become a legal alien or a citizen since he is married to an American?

    1. Melissa

      Are u serious? Only an application for legal citizenship can be given by the Government. He is ILLEGAL…with 2 DUI convictions. Just because he is married to a citizen does not give him any legal rights under the law.smfh

  3. Kate Henderson

    Please keep us posted about Leo Santos…I hope that the powers to be can help this dedicated hard working family man to stay his deportation. He is married to an American and has children born here……..Can’t any local churches give him sanctuary?My prayers for Leo and his family…

  4. Quazimoto

    Will, you fell for the hype. Sanctuary city laws are useless. They are just statements of support and have no ability to provide absolution by geography. A sanctuary city law would do nothing to help someone in this situation. The sanctuary city law only prohibits police from asking about immigration status and prohibits police from not holding a criminal that they already have in custody for the federal authorities.

  5. Adam Weiss

    Hello Jesse,
    How are you ?
    Thanks for covering this powerful story,
    I am a film maker, I would love to here more ?
    If you have a moment please e-mail me with your info ?
    Thank you so much !

  6. Melissa

    Sanctuary cities are not legal and not a place where illegals can find sanctuary. This man committed 2 crimes,and never applied when he first came over illegally for citizenship. His marriage does not give him an immediate green card. He knew living in the US illegally could get him removed and sent back to his home country. Being here illegally is a crime. Don’t feel sorry for him. This is what happens when you are not supposed to be here. Being a citizen is a privilege,not a right…

  7. endrun

    Thank you for covering this story, Jesse. Truly we need more of these stories actually covered than hatchet jobs from the local MSM and rumors from the local blogosphere of bigotry and only added censorship from the right wingnuts behind them.
    I don’t know who you are Melissa, but what I can tell you is you have hateful bigotry in your heart just from what you said. Fortunately, knowing Leo, he wouldn’t disagree with you on his transgressions. He made a contribution anyway while he was here instead of sticking his head in the sand and weeping over his transgressions every single day. That’s more than I can say for all the hateful bigoted Trumpsters who keep defending their Orange-haired and Orange-blooded CLOWN and his bigoted hateful and federal court-challenged policies ad infinitum it seems no matter what the leader of the Neo Barnum and Bailey Act says or does with plenty of clowns, plenty of animal waste, and plenty of verbal ACROBATICS. I hope he makes it back and one day he serves you your last meal as a hateful bigoted person and does so personally, and then greets you in church as well. We all should only live for that day, if this nation means a damnable THING anymore(which is certainly a tossup question at best at this point). Go take your “covfefe culture along with your smelly bigoted and seaty feet– and shove it right where the covfefe cannot be found!!!

  8. Bob

    endrun, sounds like YOU are the hater with a lot of baggage. YOU are prejudging and name calling people with different a view from yours as clowns. That is the definition of a bigot! Look in the mirror and listen to yourself. You are what you are claiming others to be. (ps- don’t you have a name or are you hiding behind your keyboard)

  9. endrun

    Bob, relax. Everyone in Kingston ought to never have a name–you are playing the name blame card here and it is a particularly BOGUS game for marmy-schmarmy little Kingston and its gossipy marmy-schmary little blogosphere, which considers a name something particularly important(for example, do you know who “Black Knight” is in the blogosphere?? Hint:someone with a name in these parts–get a CLUE). Oh, and let me explain to you the difference between pre-judging and sizing up someone after their rant. There is really in fact a great difference. Pre-judging means judging before enough facts are in. Melissa provided me with enough facts to make a determination, particularly when she stated sanctuary cities are not legal. Until she provides us a ruling from some court which backs up such an absurd statement, then she is what is called “wrong right out of the gate.” It is fine if she wants to be against sanctuary city designations;she is entitled to her opinion, but she is not entitled to her own facts. That’s the difference. So people who believe they are entitled to their own facts to suit their opinions ought be called out, and that’s what I did. The chances are good that you never met Leo nor has Melissa–“those people”, you see, aren’t good enough for you. I’ll see if I can scrape up enough dough to send you both a Peter, Paul, and Mary CD containing the song “Listen, Mr. Bigot.” Not that this would likely reform your bigotry, but most likely it would improve your access to culture on some level.

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