Chipotle launches mass firings of Latinos across Minnesota [UPDATE]

Mexican food, yes. Mexican workers, no.

Mexican food, yes. Mexican workers, no.

At least 48 workers at area Chipotle restaurants have been fired after rumors that the Immigration and Customs Service conducted an I-9 audit or "desktop raid" looking for undocumented immigrants.

Brad Sigal, a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, said the firings started last week, and include workers at five or more metro-area branches. [jump]

Sigal said he has been told that 14 workers have been fired at the Grand Avenue branch in St. Paul; 6 at the Seven Corners branch; 7 at the Skyway branch; 11 in Richfield; 7 in Golden Valley; 2 in Stillwater; and 1 in Hudson.

At another local Chipotle branch, Latino workers have been asked to train in a recent batch of non-immigrant new hires, and fear that they will be fired as soon as their replacements are ready.

"Many of these are people who have been with the company for years," Sigal said. "The firings come a couple of weeks before Christmas, which means they won't be getting the usual Christmas bonuses. There's a real Scrooge element here."

Shaun Neudauer, a spokesman for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said the agency would not confirm whether Chipotle restaurants had been the target of I-9 audits.

Managers at local Chipotle branches referred all questions to Chipotle's corporate office. This afternoon, Chipotle headquarters responded to City Pages' questions with a one-sentence statement: "Chipotle is fully cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in connection with a document request they have made."

The Denver-based chain has cultivated a socially-conscious brand image, touting its organic ingredients and naturally-raised beef. It opened its first Minneapolis restaurant in 1999, and now has more than 1000 locations. McDonald's owned a controlling stake in the chain during its greatest period of growth, but sold it in 2006 to return its focus to the billions-and-billions-of-burgers business. Unlike many similar chains, Chipotle restaurants are all centrally owned, not franchised.

We'll add to this story as we learn more, so check back for updates.