DENVER (CBS4) – Federal officials are expanding their investigation into illegal immigrants hired by Denver based Chipotle restaurants.
Immigration enforcement is now looking at the documents for workers at 60 stores. None of those stores are in Colorado.
The investigation comes as some Colorado lawmakers want to mandate that businesses verify the citizenship of their workers.
It wouldn’t matter if you have one employee or 1,000, businesses would have to put them all through the federal electronic verification, or E-Verify, program to make sure they are legal residents.
Chipotle said it may start verifying documentation anyway. This after Chipotle was forced to fire hundreds of workers the company thought were legal when they found out they were illegal.
Hundreds of Colorado companies already participate in E-Verify, but they do so voluntarily. Senate Bill 129 would make it mandatory for all companies to use the system. Those who choose not to participate would face hefty fines and could even lose their business license.
“We’re going after the employer not employee with this bill. We’re going after those knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and encouraging them to come here,” State Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch said.
Harvey is the bill’s sponsor. He said as long as businesses fire anybody flagged by E-Verify they’re off the hook.
So far groups representing business interests aren’t taking a position on the idea.
“It’ll be interesting to see who will come out against a bill that says you can only hire legal immigrants in the United States,” Harvey said.
Alan Kaplan with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition isn’t a fan of the idea.
“We think mandatory E-Verify is not the right way to go,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said companies who employ illegal immigrants won’t participate in the program hurting taxpayers.
He said legal residents will also be hurt.
“We feel that people with Latino surnames are much less likely to even end up in a hiring pool at this point,” Kaplan said.
There will be a cost to employers as well. Ryan Adair with Mountain States Employers Council represents 3,000 businesses.
“You have IT costs, computers and that sort of thing. Beyond that you have training costs. You have to have somebody who can do the E-Verification. When the system changes you have to up-train those individuals so that they can stay on top with complying with E-Verify. And then down the road you have to have somebody that can circle back and stay on top of these and monitor them for what may be weeks or even months,” Adair said.
For companies like Chipotle the benefits may outweigh the costs.
The state of Colorado and the city of Denver already require E-Verify for all of their employees. Four other states including Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah require it for all companies.
While the business community is not fighting E-Verify in Colorado, the bill does not have bipartisan support. So it will have a tough time making it out of the Senate, where democrats have the majority.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has not taken a position on the bill.