Nonprofits Aid Immigrant Rights

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December 14, 2010; Source: City Pages | Actions that look like overt racism require the nonprofit sector to get into gear. In Minnesota, the Mexican fast food chain, Chipotle, apparently did completed mass firing of Latino workers in response to an audit by the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) for the workers’ employment papers (an I-9 audit). Apparently 80 workers have been fired from several Chipotle locations in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin.

The workers may well have been undocumented, but they allege that Chipotle knew and hired them anyway. One of the fired workers said he had been working for Chipotle for five years, hired initially at $7.50 an hour and making $9.45 an hour when he was fired. The workers alleged that Chipotle often gave Latino employees “harder and more unpleasant work than the restaurant’s white employees” and managers often asked them to work extra hours without overtime.

These pre-holiday firings mean that the employees probably lose their traditional Christmas-time bonus as well as paid vacation time they would have normally carried over into next year. It seems entirely plausible that Chipotle, paying bottom of the barrel wages, knew that some of its Latino employees were undocumented. But where is the nonprofit sector standing up for these people?

Leading the charge is the Minnesota Immigration Rights Action Committee, calling for protests and boycotts of Chipotle. Churches are providing meeting space for the fired employees and their advocates and support for the employees’ families who are deprived of a paycheck at home.

And it isn’t just Chipotle. McDonalds and other low-wage restaurant chains are implementing the E-Verify system to identify and fire workers who do not possess the required paperwork proving they can legally work in the U.S..

All told, this is the result of the nation’s failure to address comprehensive immigration reform. At least President Bush, the late Ted Kennedy, and John McCain (before he ran against Obama) submitted an immigration reform plan to Congress, though the left and the right quickly scuttled it. Nothing has been proposed during the two years of the Obama administration, and the prospects for immigration reform legislation in the next two years look scant, which is why NPQ devoted an entire issue of the magazine to nonprofit roles in immigration reform. And now 80 Chipotle workers are the collateral damage of the nation’s failure to do what Bush, Kennedy, and McCain were willing to do.—Rick Cohen