Mi Pueblo could be facing the ire of its customers because of joining E-Verify. Over the past 21 years, it has developed loyalty as an immigrant-owned and immigrant-serving business. But it faces a real test of that loyalty.
Organizers of a boycott don't mince words, calling the use of E-Verify an "insult and a betrayal of the community." The criticism is aimed at the 21-store Mi Pueblo grocery chain that was started by an immigrant and targets Hispanic shoppers.
Mi Pueblo last week began to use the federal E-Verify program to check the immigration status of new job applicants. E-Verify is voluntary in California.
"This is a state that is very immigrant, proud workers,and we believe we have the right to work at a decent place, not to be fearful of ICE or Homeland Security or anyone else," union organizer Gerardo Dominguez said.
The opposition is coming from labor union and religious leaders, who have targeted Mi Pueblo in the past over overtime pay issues.
E-Verify checks immigration status against Social Security and Homeland Security records. Company Vice President Perla Rodriguez says existing employees are not affected.
"This is a decision that weighed heavily on us," Rodriguez said. "It's not something that we were looking to do, but we must embrace what is asked of us by the federal government."
However, critics say the community that shops here will not accept that decision. A boycott is set to begin early next month.
"They're not a friend of the immigrant community, but rather an agitator in the immigrant community," Fr. Jon Pedigo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish said. "By employing E-Verify and doing the kind of work that they're doing, they're instilling fear and division among the people."
Mi Pueblo does acknowledge government pressure.
"It's one we've had to make under extreme amount of pressure from the federal government," Rodriguez said. "Across the country, other Hispanic grocery retailers are facing the same pressure and have been pushed to adopt E-Verify."
The company has plan to expand nationally, and that may be behind its need to join E-Verify.
Its customers will may or may not accept the E-Verify decision.
"Most of the community that comes and shops here, they're immigrants so it would be like an offense to them," former Mi Pueblo employee Valeria Perez said.
Community leaders are giving Mi Pueblo a month to sit down and discuss its E-Verify decision, but there's no indication the owners are willing to do that. The boycott is set to begin Oct. 8.