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A lunch turns political: Lloyd Taco apologizes for event at federal prison in Batavia

On Wednesday, Lloyd Taco catered a lunch at the Federal Detention Facility in Batavia.

But by Thursday, what usually would be seen as an uneventful decision by the popular operator of food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants became a controversy that consumed social media and another example of how previously innocuous moments are further evidence of the polarization of the nation and its politics.

The controversy became public when Lloyd took to Twitter to apologize for the Batavia lunch, calling it "a lapse in judgment."

The apology followed criticism on social media from people who objected to Lloyd setting up one of its trucks at the facility where undocumented immigrants are held following their arrests, and then spurred its own backlash from those who slammed the company as unpatriotic.

And the top local Immigration and Customs Enforcement official accused the company of discriminating against the agency and its employees.

Lloyd Taco said in a statement posted online Thursday that serving lunch to detention center employees was "an honest mistake" and "a lapse in judgment."

Lloyd Taco went on to stress its close ties to the International Institute of Buffalo and Jericho Road Community Health Center, both agencies that work with immigrants and refugees here, and said this relationship includes hiring members of those communities.

The company pledged to donate the money it made from Wednesday's lunch at the facility to Justice for Migrant Families WNY.

"We're sorry, Buffalo. You deserve better," the statement said. Co-founder Pete Cimino did not respond to a request for further comment.

Lloyd Taco each day posts on Twitter a list of where its food trucks plan to set up for lunch or dinner. Wednesday, that list included lunch service from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 4250 Federal Drive, Batavia.

Some users blasted Lloyd for sending a truck to the facility, with several vowing never to patronize Lloyd Taco again and others punctuating their comments with profanity.

ICE has come under fire for its detainment of undocumented immigrants, including children, as they await deportation.

"That's a bad, bad look Lloyd. You want to support ICE?!" one Twitter user wrote.

Another noted the company's plan to serve the Batavia employees and wrote, "For when you really work up an appetite caging children."

The Buffalo field office director for ICE, Thomas Feeley, responded in a statement Thursday afternoon that children and families are not housed at the Batavia facility and that most of the detainees are "criminal aliens" who continued to commit crimes after illegally entering this country.

"We are doing our jobs, enforcing the laws passed by Congress. Just like we have for many presidents," Feeley wrote. "We will not apologize for doing this, not even to a food truck that now chooses to discriminate against us.”

Lloyd Taco did have its defenders. The Twitter account @BuffaloEats responded, "I think we both know that when Lloyd parks somewhere it’s not an endorsement or even a specific service to that business. They get people working nearby."

Still, after news of the company's apology spread Thursday several Twitter users responded by criticizing Lloyd Taco for backtracking. "Spineless wimps who can't stand up for our nation's laws," one user wrote.

Several Republican office-holders jumped on the company for apologizing.

“In what world does a company feel the need to apologize for serving food to federal law enforcement officers who work in dangerous conditions?" State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda,  who is running in the 27th Congressional District that includes Batavia, said in a statement. "Pathetic pandering. The men and women who work to enforce our immigration laws and protect us deserve better.”

And Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw, who is considering running in the same district, complained on Facebook that the "crazy brigade now has a litmus test for what foods we can eat."

Lloyd explained it received the request to send a truck to the facility several weeks ago through and it was processed through its standard intake system.

"Typically that process helps us make business decisions we are proud of," the company said in its statement. "Unfortunately, in this case it did the opposite."

The statement did not say whether this was the first time Lloyd sent a food truck to the Batavia facility.

Lloyd Taco launched the region's first food truck in 2010. It now has a fleet of at least four food trucks and two restaurants, one on Hertel Avenue and one on Main Street in Amherst.

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