A few weeks ago, a bakery in Queens, New York, told its workers to either prove their legal status in the United States or face termination.
At least 30 of Tom Cat Bakery employees, particularly immigrants allegedly received the ultimatum in a letter on March 15, citing a Department of Homeland Security audit, demanding I-9 documentation.
The notice came in the wake of stringent immigration executive orders signed by President Donald Trump and ensuing raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Although the POTUS’ new rules were supposed to target undocumented immigrants with criminal records, it soon emerged that ICE is indiscriminately detaining people for deportation.
As a result of the random raids, many undocumented immigrants have restricted their movements. For instance, many have reportedly stopped going to work or even sending their children to school.
However, Tom Cat Bakery employees have reacted to the threatening notice in a remarkably different manner: They fought back.
The warning letter was met with protests by the affected employees, some of who have worked at the establishment for more than a decade.
Brandworkers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of retail and food employees, helped organize the protests.
“I pay taxes. I work hard. I have a family. Last week, we received a letter asking us for documentation,” said Hector, a 13-year Tom Cat employee, QNS.com reported. “I think it’s very unfair the way we’re being treated. We’ve given so much to this company. The reason why the company is successful today is because of our hard work.”
“We risked a lot to come to this country in order to make a better life for our kids,” said Librada Antigua, a Tom Cat employee, according to Long Island City Post. “The Trump administration may want us to disappear, but we’re not leaving our children for anything. Our unity is our strength, and our commitment is to victory.”
Form I-9 requires “employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of their employees.” Failure to fill out the audit can result in fines. In some cases, Homeland Security can even inform ICE officers of undocumented workers, which could potentially lead to deportation.
Initially, Tom Cat Bakery gave its workers a 10-day deadline, or they would be fired on March 28 without severance pay for failing to provide the required documents.
However, following the intense backlash, Tom Cat Bakery later said Homeland Security had granted an extension to allow employees to prove their legal status.
The deadline has now been moved to April 21.
It’s not clear as to what will happen to the workers if they fail to fill out the paperwork. Gabriel Morales, a Brandworkers representative, said, “The bakery has agreed to look at sponsorship if the option is viable for certain employees.”
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign launched to support the affected employees “to help them meet essential expenses, like rent and food.” The page intends to raise a month's salary for each — $77,500 total, at an average of $2,500 per worker.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Lucy Nicholson