His Dream in Reach, an Immigrant Chef Is Suddenly Unsettled

“I thought, this is it, the end of everything,” he said. “What’s going to happen to me now?”

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Mr. Santana cooks a steak in the kitchen at St. Francis restaurant, where he worked his way up to become the chef de cuisine.

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Deanna Alejandra Dent for The New York Times

The restaurant industry is moved by immigrants, including many who are in the country illegally. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2015 that 11 percent of all restaurant and bar employees in the United States were not authorized to live and work here.

They often toil in anonymity, washing dishes, cleaning tables and cooking the food for which others win accolades. The National Restaurant Association’s website describes a symbiotic relationship in which “immigrants gain valuable job experience and immediate access to opportunity,” while restaurateurs have a ready supply of labor.

Anthony Bourdain, the chef and TV star, sees another side to the transaction. “Just about every time I walked into a new kitchen,” he has written on his blog, “it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what.”

For Mr. Santana, that apprenticeship happened in reverse. Mr. Chamberlin, a restaurateur born to a Mormon family in suburban Phoenix, showed him the ropes and took the legal risk of helping a young man without immigration papers.

Mr. Chamberlin, now 44, hired Mr. Santana in late 2011 at St. Francis, which he had just opened in the Uptown neighborhood, home to some of the city’s most innovative restaurants. (Mr. Chamberlin has since added another restaurant to his portfolio, Phoenix Public Market Café, and has three more on the way, including Taco Chelo.)

Mr. Santana had provided a friend’s name and Social Security number, which were not flagged when the restaurant ran them through E-Verify, an online database that checks the work eligibility of new hires. But as time went by, Mr. Santana felt badly about lying, and told Mr. Chamberlin that he was not who he claimed to be.

“‘Just be honest with me,’” Mr. Chamberlin recalled asking him. “‘Do you have papers?’”

“I don’t,” Mr. Santana said, “but I want to be able to work.”

By then, Mr. Santana had put in weeks of hard work, and slashed the prep time for the green chili in half. Mr. Chamberlin learned that he had done the type of jobs…

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