Specialty Coffee World Unites Against Immigration Executive Order

On Friday, the current administration issued a temporary ban on entry into the U.S. for those from specific countries. The specialty coffee community quickly demonstrated its dedication to inclusivity by speaking out and pledging support to organizations determined to fight the ban.


In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s issuance on Friday of a broad temporary ban on U.S. entry for seven countries, the United States—and much of the entire world—has erupted in backlash. Business leaders, politicians, and incensed citizens have roundly criticized the move and united in a spirit of inclusivity to support those affected.

The specialty-coffee industry has demonstrated this in grand form, with an array of stakeholders coming forward to decry discrimination and promote inclusivity in a variety of ways. Undoubtedly the highest-profile voice has been Starbucks, with Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz announcing plans to hire 10,000 refugees in the next five years in the 75 countries where it does business. A broad assortment of coffee bars are also teaming up to raise money for the American Civil Liberties Union in a fundraiser organized by Sprudge. Here is a snapshot of additional ways the industry is rallying in response.

An International Call-Out

On Monday, the Specialty Coffee Association—the newly formed entity combing the Specialty Coffee Associations of America and Europe—issued a statement on its website expressing concern for the impact the executive order will have on its members, both from a philosophical standpoint as an association that celebrates and nurtures diversity, and in a tangible sense with the international coffee community planning to attend the Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle this April.

The statement urged international coffee professionals with concerns about attending the event to contact membership@sca.coffee. In an interview following the statement, SCA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart said it’s not yet clear what action SCA will take on behalf of members in addition to its normal service of providing invitations and visa letters to community members whose countries require them. However, Rhinehart said the SCA is monitoring the situation closely. “I presume there will be greater clarity around the mechanics of this as we move forward, and that we will be poised if the opportunity is there to write those invitations and visa letters as they’re needed.” Rhinehart also reiterated that—as demonstrated by the August 2016 unification of the American and European organizations—SCA is a global organization that will strive to promote an inclusive approach: “We are fundamentally believers in the positive benefits of an international community, and irregardless of what direction the current regime is taking, we continue to maintain that belief that we can benefit from each other on an international basis.”

Proceeds from the sale of t-shirts and posters, made by the folks at the Department of Brewology, will go to the Refugee Services of Texas.

A Campaign With a Purpose

On Monday, coffee-focused design entity Department of Brewology announced its “Filter Coffee / Not People” campaign, with stylish T-shirts displaying this message of inclusivity. Proceeds from the campaign will benefit Refugee Services of Texas, a nonprofit organization based in Austin that works directly with refugees to provide transportation, translation services, legal services, cultural orientation, childcare services, living accommodations, and more.

The Department of Brewology, run by David Salinas and Brett Cannon, emailed Barista Magazine this statement about the campaign: “While coffee and politics don’t usually mix well together, coffee and hospitality do. I think most of us can agree that human and civil rights supersede politics. Simply put, this is about people, and innocent people have fallen into the crosshairs of political hostility. Like many people around the world, we found this to be reprehensible and inexcusable. Upon seeing news of the travel ban and its effects in regard to families split apart and the fear that invaded homes like an unwelcome specter; it was clear to us that we couldn’t stay silent. We felt a moral obligation to speak up. So, we came up with the campaignFilter Coffee / Not People” as a means to humanize the issue that’s become a political football. I think the entirety of the specialty-coffee industry can agree that at the heart of coffee lies friendship, camaraderie, kinship, and goodwill. Coffee is universal and knows no border, no creed, no race, only people.”

In addition to the T-shirt, Department of Brewology designed a poster of the “Filter Coffee / Not People” slogan for coffee shops to express their solidarity. Business owners interested in the poster can contact deptofbrewology@gmail.com with the subject “FCNP poster”; Department of Brewology is asking parties to cover only the shipping and handling cost.

A Cause to Rally Around

In 2015, Doug Hewitt and Rachel Taber opened the nonprofit 1951 Coffee in Berkeley, Calif., expressly to promote the well-being of the refugee community in the San Francisco Bay Area by providing job training and employment to refugees as well as educating the community about refugee issues. The 1951 Coffee cafe has been a gathering place for the refugee community since opening, and that venue has become even more vital in the days since the executive order. “Since the news on Friday, we’ve seen the cafe become a place where people can meet to get plugged into what’s going on and discuss how they can get involved,” said Doug and Rachel in an email to Barista Magazine. “We’ve seen conversations among employees and customers alike that range from fearful to sad and angry.”

1951 Coffee in Berkeley, California, employs refugees and teaches them barista skills. Employees have been engaging in conversations with customers and pointing them to organizations they can support.

Doug and Rachel said they have been telling customers who ask how they can help to first voice support to those in the community, and beyond that to consider donating to organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Rescue Committee. In the view of Doug and Rachel, the international nature of the specialty-coffee industry breeds inclusiveness and has unified their community. “The coffee industry is one that touches people all over the world—there are few cultural exclusions,” they said. “Many of our employees and barista graduates grew up living near a coffee farm in their home country or knew people who had worked on a coffee farm. Because of that, we believe that the industry has a unique ability to bring things full circle—not only through employment opportunities but also through the conversation it inspires and the community it creates.”

Raising Funds for Aleppo

In the wake of the executive order, the Aleppo Relief Fund organized a fundraiser to support the displaced citizens of Aleppo, the Syrian city that has been ravaged by the civil war in Syria.

On February 3, coffee shops around the country will take part in a fundraiser for Aleppo, with the Aleppo Relief Fund asking participants to pledge 5 percent of sales on this day. The money will go to the International Rescue Committee, which provides medical care, supports schools for children, and gives emergency cash to displaced families from Aleppo, and last year provided 1.4 million Syrians with humanitarian aid. “Coffee shops are about community,” wrote the Aleppo Relief Fund in a press release promoting the fundraiser. “Our goal is to gather in our communities to raise money to support those who have been forced out of there own. These small donations have the potential to make a big impact in the lives of Syrians as they seek to rebuild their communities.”

Visit the Aleppo Relief Fund website for more on the campaign, and visit the Crowdrise page to join the campaign or make a donation.

Chris Ryan is Content Director at Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers in Portland, Ore. He previously spent four and a half years as Editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.

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  1. Fear and ignorance protects nothing. America is so much better than that. Here’s something to reflect upon: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  2. Once again, an article about a topic it doesn’t understand or know the history of. First of all, the protection of the citizens of the US of A is job #1 of the POTUS. Look back at our recent history. Presidents Carter AND Clinton put a ban on certain groups of people from the same regions durring their time in office. Why? for the protection of our own citizens from those who only seek to destroy us. Period. The ban isn’t even on ALL immigration. Just those who come from places that have a proven record of hate and destruction for the past several centuries. Our industry, and all industries for that matter, can not survive or thrive if our way of life is threatened from within. Thus the temporary ban.

    As for Schultz, how about he does the right thing and hiring 10K veterans instead? People who have sacrificed FOR this country. It was only after a truck load of backlash that Schultz caved and said he would hire a few thousand vets. Pathetic.

    Not all of us in this industry are sheeple who will lock step with the PC bunch.

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