Protesters held a community rally in front of the Mi Pueblo Food Center in East Oakland on Saturday to protest the company’s voluntary decision to use the Federal Immigrations and Customs (ICE) program, E-Verify, for all new hires.
E-Verify performs a background check on all workers and determines whether they have proper citizenship documents. That information is then sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The use of E-Verify is part of ICE’s nation-wide effort to seek out undocumented workers in the United States, and has drawn strong criticism from immigration rights groups. While the use of E-Verify is mandatory in many states, it is a voluntary program in California thanks to a bill signed in 2011 by Governor Jerry Brown.
ICE recently subjected the Mi Pueblo chain to an audit to determine whether any of its current workers are undocumented. Mi Pueblo spokesperson, Perla Rodriguez, said, for that reason, the company chose to implement the E-Verify program and she said the protesters were only doing harm to their employees.
“They say they want to support our employees” Rodriguez said of the protesters, “by doing what they’re doing – impeding people from entering and shopping—what they’re doing is hurting our employees.”
The Mi Pueblo chain consists of 21 stores and has around 3,000 employees. The CEO, Juvenal Chavez,–who was formerly an undocumented immigrant–crossed the border from Mexico when he was 24. He started out in the U.S. as a janitor and eventually founded the Mi Pueblo chain, which has grown into a $300 million business.
“Just as you came here to prosper,” said protester María Aguilar of Chavez, “remember that your people, your raza, also came here to prosper.”