Punishing Businesses for Complying with U.S. Immigration Law Hurts Everybody – Except the Open Border Protesters

Last year, as a result of an I-9 immigration audit by the Department of Homeland Security, New York City’s Tom Cat Bakery fired 24 of its 180 employees because they were unable to verify their legal right to work in the U.S. The predictable outrage over the Trump administration’s decision to enforce U.S. immigration laws was followed by protests and boycotts.

Ignoring (or ignorant of) the obligation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to uphold the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire, open border groups took to the streets last September with Tom Cat Bakery in their sights.

Daniel Gross, the founder and executive director of the non-profit Brandworkers and an organizer of the protests, told Civil Eats that “Tom Cat should serve as a model employer for what every employer in the United States should do in the Trump Era, which is adopt a set of immigrant worker protection practices.”

He added that businesses in the food industry must “choose between immigrant colleagues in the culinary industry or stand with Trump’s hateful immigration policies.”

To be clear, Tom Cat Bakery was hardly a sweat shop. It has been open for 30 years and provides workers with good pay, health insurance and gave severance pay to the illegal immigrants who lost their jobs. But that is not enough for Gross and his cohorts.

When word spread that Robert, a restaurant at New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design, would continue to use products from Tom Cat Bakery, protesters redirected their rage at the establishment. While Robert stuck with Tom Cat, the bakery lost business from restaurants and eateries that punished them for simply complying the federal law.

The actions of the Queens-based Brandworkers and another protest group – Rise and Resist – are not likely to inspire lawmakers to change immigration law. And there demands will most certainly hurt workers and employers caught in the crosshairs. Recently protesters launched a “direct action” at Clyde Frazier’s to demand they drop Tom Cat, including entering the establishment screaming “No Justice, No bread.”

Michael Weinstein, the president of the Ark Restaurant Group, has not punished Tom Cat Bakery and says he is “embarrassed that other restaurateurs are caving,” to the pressure campaigns.

According to Weinstein, a loss in business will force him to reduce employees’ hours, including the 60 percent who were born outside of the U.S. The end result of these protests and boycotts will “hurt the pocketbooks of the same people they want to support,” he says.

About Author


Jennifer joined FAIR as Web Content Writer in 2017 and brings to the role extensive communications and media background. She began her career as a policy research analyst on multiple national and state political campaigns before entering journalism. In addition to spending over a decade writing for several broadcast and print news outlets, Jennifer directed communications strategy for a member of Congress and a military nonprofit.


  1. avatar
    George V Rowe on

    So called “illegal immigrant” is a contradiction in terms. To me an immigrant is one who follows the law.
    The term should be “illegal migrant” and is one who violates the law ergo is a criminal.
    Anyone who aids and abets their criminal activity is then also a criminal.
    One would not get away with such law breaking illegally migrating to Mexico.

  2. avatar

    Sounds like there could be a lawsuit by the bakery against those restaurants and businesses who have decided not to use their products because of this issue. The same could be said for the protestors. The company did not contact ICE, but it was the other way around. The bakery had no legal choice but to comply and as a result there is an organized effort to put them out of business.

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  4. avatar

    This article is extremely poorly written, including at least one misuse of a homonym, making it impossible to understand. I tried to make sense of the article, but failed.

    In any event, it is the duty of ICE to enforce our immigration laws. If they did so properly, which appears to be the case, no outsider can have a dispute with what was done, although it resulted in illegal aliens losing the jobs that they should not have had in the first place. The bakery did not follow the law and they should be prosecuted for that. The same for the illegal workers.

    If people doing business with this bakery are boycotting the bakery, because the bakery is now following the law [is that what this article says?], then the boycotters are misinformed, or also intent in violating the law, themselves. This is wrong and they need to rethink the issue.

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