The Common Good

Chipotle Firings: One Story of a Broken Immigration System

Sojomail - May 19, 2011


"I would invite all Latin people to do nothing for about two weeks so you can see who really, really is running the economy. Who cleans the sheets? Who cleans the toilets? Who babysits? I am here to give voice to the invisible."

- Musician Carlos Santana, protesting Georgia's immigration law while accepting Major League Baseball’s Beacon of Change award before the "Civil Rights Game" in Atlanta. (Source: USA Today)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Chipotle Firings: One Story of a Broken Immigration System

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Just over one month ago, a few dozen fired employees demonstrated outside a Chipotle one block from Sojourners' office. The employees reported that they were taken to the back of the store during their 30-minute break and were dismissed without warning. On their way out of the restaurant they saw their replacements already at work. Chipotle fired 40 employees throughout the D.C. area because of questions regarding their immigration status. Workers reported that Chipotle still has not paid nearly $21,000 in wages.

Stories like this occur day after day across the country. Our immigration system is broken. The status quo is not acceptable. It tears apart families, hurts businesses, and divides communities.

This month, Sojourners and Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform are featuring "The Stories of Immigration" blog series. We are highlighting stories, songs, and interviews with immigrants and immigrant advocates as a way to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of immigrants and the broken immigration system here in the United States. Click on any of the blogs below to read these powerful stories:

Individuals, communities, and families continue to be hurt by our broken immigration system. Last week, I was reminded of the fear that millions in our country live with every day when I joined my Hispanic brothers and sisters at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. While we are a long way from where we need to be, there are hopeful movements.

At the breakfast, President Barack Obama told the leaders gathered that when they speak out on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, he is listening. Obama said that fixing our immigration system is not just an economic and security imperative, but also a moral imperative.

Action on a national level is absolutely necessary. In lieu of federal leadership, individual states continue to pass patchwork legislation and enforcement policies. In Georgia, a hotly debated piece of immigration legislation that increases enforcement powers against immigrants was signed into law. The bill closely mirrors another bill that passed last year in Utah and ignited a national debate. This type of legislation does more harm than good. Immigration, both constitutionally and practically, is a national issue. Solutions to our broken system will only come from the federal government, and need to be uniform across the country.

Problems with the Secure Communities initiative have led other states, such as Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, and California, to raise objections to the program's impact. The program is designed to spot and deport undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. Under the program, fingerprints of people booked into a jail are transmitted to a database reviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If a person is found to be in the U.S. illegally, he or she can face deportation. Unfortunately, the Secure Communities initiative has led to the deportation of thousands of people without criminal records, and it is one of the main forces tearing families and communities apart.

While the broken state of our immigration system, and its desperate need for reform, might not be a part of your daily life, there are many for whom it is. And I am quite sure that if you take the time to look around your church and extended community, it won't take very long to find those who are living with the consequences of a broken system every day.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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