ICE Fines Gourmet Heaven

Melissa Bailey PhotoDowntown’s high-end corner markets lost three employees, and agreed to pay a $5,891 fine, after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined it had hired workers without proper documents.

Gourmet Heaven, which has stores on Broadway and Whitney Avenue, was one of 12 Connecticut companies fined by ICE during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012, according to an ICE press release issued Thursday.

Store owner Chung Cho (pictured above) said three employees in New Haven, as well as two at another store in Providence, Rhode Island, left about two months ago because of the ICE probe.

“They left by themselves,” he said.

The workers had been using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number, he said. They had been paying taxes, but they had “incomplete” paperwork to prove they had legal permission to work, he said. Confronted with the lack of paperwork, the employees left, he said.

Cho said he has paid the $5,891 fine.

The fine arose from an audit into whether Gourmet Heaven’s employees had legal permission to work, said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Boston.

The audit was based on a tip, Foucart said.

His office then issued a subpoena asking for Gourmet Heaven’s Form I-9 documents. Form I-9 “requires employers to review and record the individual’s identity and employment eligibility document(s) and determine whether the document(s) reasonably appears to be genuine and related to the individual.”

“Every single company, every single employer, needs to maintain I-9s, supported by identification,” Foucart explained in an interview Thursday afternoon.

Gourmet Heaven employs 15 to 16 people at its two New Haven stores, according to Cho. The first store (pictured), on Broadway, opened in March of 2001.

The audit concluded that a “handful” of workers had “suspect” documents, Foucart said. He didn’t give a number.

In both states, the stores “had to let people go because we told them that they weren’t authorized to work in the United States,” he said.

“They’ve got a lot of people without papers,” confirmed a former longtime worker. 

When it comes across suspect documents, ICE runs the employee’s name to see if the person is wanted on any warrants, has a criminal background, or has a deportation order pending against them. Nothing like that came up on the Gourmet Heaven workers, Foucart said. ICE did not initiate removal proceedings against them, he said.

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posted by: robn on November 16, 2012  10:23am

Given Americans penchant for immigrant bashing, and the knee jerk reaction that an illegal alien is always Mexican, it would be interesting to know the country of origin of the workers in question. Would hat reinforce stereotypes or turn them on their ear?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on November 16, 2012  11:02am

This will be an other perfect example to see how much is the value of the immigrants participation work force, not only into our local communities but all USA Nationals.

They are working and paying taxes. That means they are paying for the services they are using into our communities.(most of them are payed below minimum wages.)

“The workers had been using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number, he said. They had been paying taxes, but they had “incomplete” paperwork to prove they had legal permission to work,”

I really like to know if the reporter of this article, asked to the Audit person. Your suspicious are base only in the Latinos work applications? or just in “general”.

”  The audit concluded that a “handful” of workers had “suspect” documents, Foucart said. He didn’t give a number.”

Not easy to see how the hard working people (with no record of crime of felonies) had been punishing.

posted by: Megan on November 16, 2012  12:49pm

Only 12 Connecticut companies were sanctioned by ICE for hiring undocumented workers this year?  There are more than 110,000 undocumented immigrants living in Connecticut, according to a 2010 count by the Pew Hispanic Center.  Nearly all of them, with the exception of school-age children, are workers, since they don’t qualify for unemployment, disability or welfare. So why am I not surprised that only 12 businesses were fined?  We all know that the Employer Sanctions provision of Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA) is a sham.  When Reagan signed IRCA into law in 1986, the Employer Sanctions provision was supposed to protect jobs for US citizens by fining businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants.  Yet we see that IRCA has done the opposite. By creating a class of workers who are criminalized, who can be fired or jailed at any moment, who are not protected by labor laws, IRCA created a class of workers who are very attractive to employers whose objective is to cut costs and maximize profits. Employers who want to do the right thing and pay a living wage, or simply pay the minimum wage, have to lower their standards in order to compete with businesses that are paying less. In a race to the bottom, US-born and documented workers, in order to compete with undocumented workers, have to lower their standards or else be replaced by cheaper labor.

Take the agricultural industry, for example. In 1986, IRCA legalized 1.1 million farmworkers who were laboring on US farms.  So did agricultural companies shift from an undocumented workforce to a documented workforce? Quite the opposite. In 1989, 7% of US farmworkers were undocumented. Today, 53% of US farmworkers are undocumented. Rather than improving wages and conditions (farmworkers can legally be paid by the bucket instead of by the hour, and average income for a family is $16,000), agricultural companies recruited more undocumented workers.

Will Obama’s immigration reform be a repeat of Reagan’s reform? Will we legalize a portion of the immigrant population, but continue a two-tiered system in which documented workers are pitted against undocumented workers, labor standards are unenforceable, and smugglers, human traffickers and sweatshops thrive?

posted by: NHteacher on November 16, 2012  6:25pm

Megan is spot on. Immigrants are the hard-working, vibrant heart of our city’s culture and economy.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 16, 2012  8:20pm

But Cesar Chavez was against illegal immigration.In 1979 testimony to Congress, Chavez complained, “... when the farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strikebreakers to break the strike. And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking.

posted by: HhE on November 17, 2012  11:43pm

Four thoughtful comments, one cut and paste.  Thus speaks the 16th generation American, whose children are 2nd generation.

posted by: Wooster Squared on November 18, 2012  1:27pm

You would think a store that charges $3 for a Snickers bar could find the time and money to properly take care of basic paperwork.