A crackdown by federal immigration officials has forced Chipotle Mexican Grill to fire hundreds of allegedly illegal employees in Minnesota.
The firing could affect more than half of the burrito chain’s staff in the state, and the probe is getting bigger.
Co-Chief Executive Monty Moran said officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sent “notices of inspection” for Chipotle restaurants in Washington D.C. and Virginia.
The revelations are an indicator that illegal labor may be a more common practice in the restaurant industry than many people suspect. Some experts said the Chipotle investigations are a warning to the industry, which is one of the biggest employers in the U.S. economy and creates more than $300 billion in annual sales.
The Denver-based restaurant chain operates with the motto “Food with Integrity” and is now one of the best-known cases of a federal immigration crackdown that began several years ago.
“When you get a big name like Chipotle, it stands out and sends a message,” said Jacqueline Longnecker, president of Reno-based Employment Verification Resources Inc. “The onus is on employers now … It sends the message that nobody is going to be excused from this,” she said.
The company feels it has not been targeted.
“ICE has vowed to increase pressure on employers to avoid employing undocumented workers … We are one of a large and growing number of companies to go through this process,” Moran wrote in an e-mail.
Up until now, most immigration issues found in the restaurant industry have involved small businesses or franchise owners of big chains.