Building a Better Burrito with Healthy Immigration

One of my worst pet peeves is bad food service, particularly at a fast-food restaurant. The difference in price between fast food and a sit-down family restaurant is often negligible, and the quality is generally inferior. So the value in fast food compared to other options is entirely in its being delivered fast and accurately. Yet all too frequently we spend far longer waiting for fast food than it is worth, or pull away from a drive-thru only to discover down the road that our order is wrong.

In my experience, Chipotle has always stood out as a remarkable exception to this trend. The Mexican grill would prefer to be called a “quick-casual eatery,” perhaps in an effort to differentiate itself from the fast-food stigma. Nevertheless, the restaurant chain serves food fast, or at least used to.

Earlier this year, Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota were compelled to let go of five hundred employees in the face of an audit of their employment documents. Presumably, those employees were illegal immigrants. Anecdotally, I can tell you that stopping at a Chipotle prior to this cleansing of their labor force was a spectacle of efficiency carried out by a majority Latino staff.

Since the raid on Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota, their labor force has become far more diverse with an influx of white suburban teenagers. Coincidently, the quality of service has declined.

The last time I was in a Chipotle, there were half a dozen employees behind the counter running around like chickens with their heads cut off, overwhelmed and under-motivated, serving a line of customers stretching out the door. Long lines are not unusual at Chipotle. However, they used to move a lot quicker than they do now. Despite often speaking the language better than their illegal predecessors, these new American workers seem to understand it less. Orders had to be repeated. Mistakes were common. The workflow was sporadic. And management was non-existent. After being raided for illegals, Chipotle went from a “quick-causal eatery” to just another hit-or-miss fast-food joint.

Question: whom does this benefit? How is anyone in this scenario better off? The illegals lost their jobs. Chipotle lost a productive and efficient workforce and was forced to put plans for expansion on hold. Worst of all, consumers lost a certain quality of service. All this -- the jobs, the productivity, and the value -- were results of voluntary trade. No one was holding a gun to anyone’s head. No one was violating anyone’s rights.