Outside of Minneapolis’ D’Amico’s Restaurant in Uptown, demonstrators rallied on Friday, March 28, on behalf of 13 immigrant workers who are losing their jobs at the diner because they haven’t proven their identities. D’Amico’s and the employees are caught in the middle of a national debate surrounding immigration policy. The D’Amico’s protesters are raising questions about how an employer should proceed when receiving notification that a staffer’s social security number doesn’t seem to be legit (called a “no-match”). On the one hand, current law doesn’t require an employer to take any specific actions, but a pending rule change could make it standard practice to fire people on that basis.
The longtime D’Amico’s employees, all of whom are Latino, are to be terminated on Monday, March 31, because they failed to prove their identification for the restaurant within a 90-day period. On Jan. 1, a dozen employees were laid off for the same reason, sources say. D’Amico’s spokespersons respond that they are adhering to federal legal requirements. Some community organizers with the locally based nonprofit Workers Interfaith Network (WIN) say the company’s actions are unjustified.
D’Amico’s spokespersons claim it has received “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration for the 13 employees over the past couple of years. In response, restaurant managers asked the workers to resubmit to them documentation that validates their identities. Larry D’Amico, president of D’Amico’s, said, “Several months ago we told them they needed to work to verify their information. We paid them for missed time,” he said. “We’re following what the law says. These are good employees and we hope it gets corrected and that they keep working for us.”On Friday afternoon, the protesters displayed signs that read, “Let my dad keep his job,” among other messages, while marching, chanting and toying with noisemakers. They passed out bright pink leaflets that announced the 13 discrimination charges they were filing with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). Some cars honked as they passed by. Angel Casique Martinez, a 17-year employee, said in Spanish during the demonstration through WIN interpreter Brian Payne, “We’re here because we were fired unjustly…we’re here so that we can keep our jobs,” adding, “We want to end discrimination and for people to stop treating people differently just because of their color.”
Dan Palmquist, an attorney for D’Amico’s who also teaches immigration law, echoed those statements. “It’s the practice of the federal government to require employers to follow up if they receive a no-match letter. They need to ask employees to go to the Social Security Administration to provide evidence of identification. We have no idea if they’re documented or not.”
The employees are “asking us to ignore the law,” he said, adding that it would invite criminal penalties. Only the employees for whom Social Security numbers didn’t seem to match up have been approached, he said. Additionally, D’Amico’s spokesperson Amy Rotenberg added that the company had received suspicious correspondence in regards to employee information. For some reason, WIN had steered the employees toward a Social Securities Administration office in Baltimore, Maryland, instead of a local office.
But some WIN community organizers allege that D’Amico’s actions are illegal and discriminatory. The Equal Justice Center states that the “no-match letter is not a notice that the employer or employee has done anything wrong,” especially since misspelled names, wrong numbers or clerical errors could be blamed. It “specifically states that employers should not take any adverse action against an employee based on the no-match letter,” it goes on. Additionally, it points out that a no-match letter isn’t IRS-issued nor does it come from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is pushing for a no-match rule that would allow a no-match letter to be used as evidence that “the employer has ‘constructive knowledge’ that the employee who is the subject of the letter is unauthorized to work,” according to information from the National Immigration Law Center. Employers are then to follow its guidelines to elude liabilities under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it states. The rule, which is open for public comment through April 28, “will cause enormous upheavals in the workplace and in the economy, it will not resolve undocumented immigration,” according to law center information.
Francisco Gonzalez, an employment attorney who works for the state, said via email that such a rule would place a heavy burden on employees who may not be proficient in English, while facing other barriers. He said the D’Amico’s situation signals the need for immigration reform. The employees “have little recourse since the employer is being threatened with fines by the federal government for having workers presumably without papers,” he said.