Last month six hundred workers at the Chipotle fast food chain were fired in Minnesota.
Their crime? Working.
In the last two years, thousands of others have been fired for the same offense—1800 young women at Los Angeles sewing machines, 500 apple pickers in eastern Washington, hundreds of janitors in Minnesota and California. They’re all victims of the administration’s "softer" immigration enforcement strategy.
Its logic is brutal: Make it impossible for 12 million undocumented people in the US to earn a living—to buy food, pay rent, or send money home to their children. Then they’ll deport themselves. When their families hear they can’t get jobs in the US, they won’t join those already here.
This inhuman logic convinced Congress to pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. For 25 years employers have had to verify workers’ immigration status, and cannot legally employ people without papers. The real impact, though, is on workers. It’s become a crime to hold a job.
But that hasn’t prompted undocumented immigrants to leave the United States. Over those 25 years NAFTA and CAFTA, and pro-corporate market reforms in Mexico and other developing countries, profoundly deepened the poverty driving people from their homes. More people came than ever before.
Among them were those six hundred mostly-Mexican workers who got minimum-wage jobs serving Mexican food at Chipotle. Many of them worked years for the company. Then the Department of Homeland Security audited Chipotle’s personnel records, found incorrect Social Security numbers, and in December sent the company a list of workers it had to fire.
Alejandro Juarez, who worked at the Calhoun Lake restaurant in Minneapolis, says his manager told him not to bother coming back the next day. He’d spent five years cleaning and fixing the stoves, grills and refrigerators, for $9.42/hour. "The company used us," he says, "and when it didn’t serve them anymore, they threw us away like trash."
John Morton, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says it plans many more mass firings. The ICE website says it targets employers "who are using illegal workers to drive down wages … [those] likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions."
At Chipotle, however, as in every other sanctions target, ICE never improved conditions. Wages remain the same. In fact, although Morton boasts ICE collected $7 million in employer fines during 2,740 audits, those who cooperated in firing workers were given immunity. The only people penalized were workers.