Chipotle versus the American Worker

Published on March 24th, 2011

by Joe Guzzardi
March 11, 2011

The Chipotle Mexican Grill case provides solid evidence that Americans, despite protestations by amnesty advocates to the contrary, will perform low wage jobs. Those who argue that enforcing immigration laws will open up American employment opportunities are encouraged by the expanded ICE audit from the original 50 Minnesota Chipotle restaurants to 60 more in Virginia and Washington, D.C. As a result of the audits, thousands of illegal immigrants have been fired or have stopped showing up.

Consequently, Chipotle’s website recently listed multiple opportunities in the Virginia-D.C. area. Major Internet-based employment sites like Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com also posted listings for the same market.

At Chipotle’s 1,084 locations its total labor force is about 25,000, many of whom are illegal immigrants. If the ICE probe extends into California where 15 percent of the company’s total restaurants operate, the massive firings or no-shows that may result could be devastating to the company but beneficial to Americans.

Just how helpful a full scale ICE Chipotle audit would be to Americans raises a compelling question: Who benefits and who loses from illegal immigrant labor?

To date, the big winners are Chipotle’s shareholders who have profited from a 350 percent stock gain over the last two years. Assuming Chipotle passes its cheap labor savings on to its customers, then Mexican fast food consumers may also come out ahead.

In the meantime, the consistent losers are American workers and taxpayers. Not only have workers been shut out but taxpayers have funded the total costs, including a depressed wage scale which is created by illegal immigration. Newly arrived immigrants, especially under-educated illegal ones with few options, are more willing to work for a lower salary than Americans in some industries. The more immigration, the more acute the wage depression.

In his studies, Harvard University’s Jeffrey G. Williamson also found that the higher levels of immigration, the greater economic disparity between the rich and the poor. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, like Williamson, has long lamented that by becoming dependent on cheap illegal immigrant workers, corporations are less likely to make technological improvements that would train workers for more skilled, higher paying jobs.

Unlimited immigration is doubly hurtful to America’s poor and middle class who become the first victims of workers willing, and often eager, to accept low wages.

The high cost of cheap labor hammers taxpayers. A February 2011 Federation for American Immigration Reform report estimates the annual costs of illegal immigration at the federal, state and local level to be about $113 billion; nearly $29 billion at the federal and $84 billion at the state and local level. The study also includes tax collections from illegal alien workers, both those in the above-ground and underground economies. After analyzing the data, FAIR concluded that each household headed by a native-born American spends $1,117 annually to subsidize illegal immigrants’ services.

In the end, taxpayers have to ask themselves if they would rather pay a few pennies more for a burrito made by an American worker or subsidize millions of illegal immigrants. As for Chipotle, it may have to come up with a new motto. The current one, “Food with Integrity” doesn’t apply to a company that makes it profits by exploiting illegal alien labor.


Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1988. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. He can be reached at [email protected]

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