In the borough of Queens in New York City, the owners of Tom Cat Bakery has informed 31 employees that they must present valid documentation of their authorization to work in the Untied States by March 28 or face termination. The business is facing an audit by the Department of Homeland Security, which has focused on the employees in question. DHS wants proof that they are authorized to work in the country.
The 31 workers have appealed to Brandworkers, a nonprofit, to demand that Tom Cat Bakery sponsor the workers or pay severance. Some of the employees have worked for the company for as long as 24 years. According to its website, Brandworkers is “bringing local food production workers together for good jobs and a sustainable food system.” The organization was a founding member of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Its website states: “Brandworkers has also been influential in the broader movement for worker justice. The organization is a founding member of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the first-ever coalition of food worker organizing groups across the supply chain, from farm to plate. Brandworkers helped convene May Day United, a network of over 60 worker centers, unions, and community groups dedicated to increasing power and participation in May 1st actions and beyond.”
The nonprofit has already sponsored one rally over the potential firings, but has postponed another one that was planned.
President Donald Trump’s actions regarding border security and immigration have been credited with bringing about a movement on the part of “sanctuary restaurants.” These are businesses that are refusing to assist immigration authorities searching for illegal and criminal aliens.
Among them is the Russell Street Deli in Detroit. Co-owner Ben Hall was interviewed by a Latino advocacy organization, Presente.org, and said that his business had already been operating as a sanctuary restaurant. His business is among approximately one dozen such businesses in the U.S. that have declared themselves safe spaces for people of all backgrounds and persuasions. Hall noted in an AP article that the sanctuary restaurant movement began while Barack Obama was in office, back “when everybody thought that it was just going to be Hillary [Clinton] status quo life.”
However, the current sanctuary restaurant movement is credited to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), which announced in a January 4 press release that it was joining with Presente.org, COLORS Restaurants, and others in announcing its initiative to “resist hate and harassment” in the restaurant industry. The movement seeks to offer support and resources to “restaurant workers, employers and consumers impacted by hostile policies and actions, including immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQI people and others.” Participating sanctuary restaurants are pledged inter alia to not allow “any harassment of any individual based on immigrant/refugee status, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation to occur in their restaurant.”
In November 2016, a group of food industry businesses in collaboration with ROC United issued issued an open letter to Donald Trump to “speak out to alleviate the fear of deportation or other harassment of immigrant workers in our industry.”
According to the Pew research organization, illegal immigrants comprise approximately 10 percent of the workers in hospitality business and 13 percent of the agriculture industry. This may be an underestimate According to Eater, a website that focuses on the restaurant industry, over 20 percent of all cooks may be illegal immigrants. In article earlier this year, Eater wrote: “Just one day without immigrants cost the restaurant industry a huge hit to its profits, and some experts predict that without undocumented labor, the price of food will increase up to six percent... or worse…”
All citizens and non-citizens are required to fill out a Form I-9 to prove their authorization to work in the United States. Falsification of the form is a criminal offense for employers and employees. Employers who are taken to court over questions raised about the form are held to a reasonableness standard in court. This means that as long as the name on the employee-submitted documents matches the name of the employee, and the photo ID submitted appears to be valid, employers do not tend to ask questions. Modern payroll systems do offer services that will issue alerts if an invalid Social Security number is entered into the system that does not match with a name. These services can also alert employers if a Social Security number in question was actually ever issued. In addition, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement agency offers its e-Verify system to check the status of their hires.