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Chipotle feels the squeeze as the Obama administration flexes its immigration enforcement muscles

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

Contrary to the perception that Republicans are the only ones desiring a return to strict workplace immigration enforcement, the Wall Street Journal and others are reporting that immigration authorities under President Obama are utilizing harsh measures with popular restaurant chains like Chipotle.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the chain has been forced to let go of hundreds of workers in recent weeks after the company received many notices from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of "suspect documents" for those very workers.  In other words, suspected actions on the part of those suspended workers may have included presenting fake social security numbers or using someone else's number as their own. The government agency will perform audits of these stores to ensure that workers are legitimately allowed to work lawfully. There is no indication that Chipotle knew of such illegal activity.

Current stores in the crosshairs of the ongoing ICE investigation are in Minnesota and also include others in Washington DC and Virginia. Stores in California are not on ICE's watch at the moment, the report said.

The Journal reports that in the recent fiscal year ending in September, the agency had conducted audits of more than 2,740 U.S. companies.  This was double the amount of the previous year's audits. Fines against illegal activities of businesses amounted to record amounts as well, the Journal states. 

In an effort to give a voice to those in opposition to Chipotle's actions, the Los Angeles Times published a response to Chipotle's action from a policy advocate on behalf of an immigration rights group in Southern California that has been previously covered here at CAIVN.

     "While we're happy that high-profile raids have decreased, the government has shifted to another enforcement-only approach," Carl Bergquist, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told the Times. 

Mr. Bergquist said that companies like Chipotle are put on the spot and that wokers' livelihoods are lost as a result. 

Chris Arnold, spokesperson for Chipotle, told the Times that more employee firings are likely to come. In late January, when Chipotle was also being audited by ICE, Arnold said that the company will ultimately comply with government officials on the matter.  Despite the chain's cooperation with government officials, the restaurant faced protests over allegations that workers weren't fully informed of the reasons for their firings.

The Chipotle ordeal demonstrates that not only is the Obama administration cracking down on illegal immigration at the border, but also at more local levels as well. As noted, the number of workplace enforcement measures is higher this year than it was last year under President Obama.

So, for news publications like the Los Angeles Times to suggest that it is simply Republicans who want to return to strict workplace enforcement is an unfair and inaccurate assessment.  In putting forth this narrative, such reporting plays a factor in leading to a misinformed public on the issue of the federal government tackling illegal immigration.

In tackling the effective responsibility of enforcement at the workplace level, the administration is in part ensuring that illegal immigrants do not take the jobs that should rightfully go to qualified and legal Americans. Furthermore. this means that immigration agents under Obama are also getting a handle on fraudulent acts such as the supplying of fake information by illegal immigrants. 

Ultimately, while the Democratic Party would like to portray itself as more lenient on allowing immigrants to remain in the country, the truth is the Obama administration is stepping-up its efforts to fight illegal immigration.  Likewise, while Republicans would like to portray themselves as tougher on immigration enforcement than the current President, the facts are making it difficult to make such a claim.

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