Photo: Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café in San Diego, California
By Nélida Tello
On January 15, Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café in San Diego announced that it would be permanently closing its doors after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audited the bakery’s I-9 forms. Since 2010, the cafe had operated at Liberty Station, the former Naval Training Center that is now a frequented mixed-use development.
It is unknown whether the audit of Con Pane Breads & Café was conducted on-site or if any former undocumented workers were detained, however the audit and subsequent shuttering of the bakery have guaranteed the workers’ unemployment. The cafe’s owner, Catherine Perez, expressed her gratitude to the community in a Facebook statement but also blamed her own workers for the shutdown of the bakery.
“Although we require all workers to provide us with government specified documentation evidencing their employment eligibility, a number of our employees have been, without our knowledge, determined to be unauthorized workers,” the statement said. “The discovery of a large number of unauthorized workers has so disrupted operations we have had no choice but to close.”
The Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 is a method utilized by ICE to ensure that employers comply with US hiring laws, requiring that employees submit various forms of identification to prove work eligibility. Employers who fail to comply with hiring laws can be fined between $230 and $2,200, and those who knowingly hire undocumented workers are harshly fined up to $22,000.
While ICE portrays I-9 audits as a way of combating “worker exploitation, illegal wages, and child labor,” this is only an attempt to obscure ICE’s true function as an enforcer of US imperialism while mystifying the conditions that force immigrants into the US. Immigration laws and employment of migrant workers have fluctuated according to the economy, hiring an abundance of workers regardless of status during economic booms, and disposing of workers during crisis.
ICE audits are enforced to intimidate employers who hire undocumented workers and castigate undocumented workers, forcing them to seek jobs with poor working conditions, wage theft, and further exploitation. The I-9 audits disproportionately target hospitality, construction, and food sectors where a large number of undocumented immigrants constitute the workforce.
Under executive order “Buy American Hire American,” passed by President Trump in 2017, ICE began increasing its I-9 audits. Since the beginning of this fiscal year, ICE has audited 35 unspecified businesses in San Diego County, and this comes after more than 1,500 work-related arrests in the county by ICE in 2018.
Following the cafe’s closure, patrons of the bakery displayed their support and sympathy not only with the owner of the bakery, but with its undocumented workers, leaving notes on the door with messages such as “All immigrants are welcome.” Support for Latin-American immigrants is prevalent among the people of the US, especially in areas with high Chicano populations, and this constitutes a basis for their defense. The working class of the US must unite with immigrant workers from oppressed nations to organize the fight against ICE’s terror and seek the overthrow of US imperialism.