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E-VerifyLeading Latino supermarket entrepreneur criticized for using E-Verify

Published 21 September 2012

Juvenal Chavez built his Mi Pueblo supermarket chain from the ground up into twenty-one stores, revitalized San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood in San Jose; he has been hailed  the king of Latino supermarket; now the entrepreneur has come under fire: Mi Pueblo shocked some of its 3,000 employees last month when it told them the supermarket chain has joined E-Verify, a DHS program that aims to verify the immigration status of new hires and existing employees

Juvenal Chavez built his Mi Pueblo supermarket chain from the ground up into twenty-one stores, revitalized San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood in San Jose. He has been hailed  the king of Latino supermarket.

Now the entrepreneur has come under fire. Mi Pueblo shocked some of its 3,000 employees last month when it told them the supermarket chain has joined E-Verify, a DHS program that aims to verify the immigration status of new hires and existing employees.

Union activists accuse Chavez of betraying his own people, and are threatening a consumer boycott if he does not pull out of the program by next month.

A protest outside the chain’s headquarters in San Jose earlier this month was “part of an ongoing campaign against Mi Pueblo (to) damage our good name,” spokeswoman Perla Rodriguez told the Marin Independent Journal.

Since he founded the company in 1991, Chavez has been praised by city leaders and officials around the Bay Area for buying up vacant or rundown supermarkets and transforming them into festive Latin American food markets.

In March 2010 Chavez opened a supermarket in a former Circuit City in San Rafael and was lauded by Mayor Al Boro, who highlighted the store’s opening in his state of the City address the next month.

The San Rafael market received the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Marin’s Outstanding Business Diversity Award in 2012. Chavez also received Bank of Marin’s Spirit of Marin Award, and appeared with Boro at a bilingual entrepreneur fair hosted by the Canal Alliance in 2011.

Now Chavez is facing one of the biggest public-relations challenges since he started his company.

One of Chavez’s biggest critics is Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who in December said that armed security guards escorted him out of a San Jose store when he paid a visit after hearing complaints about the working conditions.

Labor organizers attempting to unionize Latino and Asian ethnic markets across the state of California are attacking Chavez and calling him a hypocrite, citing past media reports in which Chavez revealed he came to America illegally from Mexico in the 1980s.

He comes here undocumented and now he’s going after undocumented workers,” Mike Henneberry of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 told the Journal. “I think that’s a little hypocritical. If it’s not hypocritical, it’s a little ironic.”

Rodriguez said that Chavez has been a longtime U.S. citizen and an advocate who supports fixing the “broken” immigration system and has funded scholarships for undocumented students. When asked how Chavez came to this country, Rodriguez said the question is “Very personal and it is not pertinent to operation of the company.”

Many of the Mi Pueblo’s loyal customers are unaware of the situation.

That’s kind of unexpected for a store like this,” Jonathan Rodriguez, 18, told the Journal as he helped his grandmother stuff grocery bags into her trunk at the Mi Pueblo store in central Hayward. “I don’t think that’s right. They are a Mexican food center and they should be helping their community.”

Rafael Nunez, another regular customer had a different take. “In any country you go to, the law says you need papers to work,” Nuñez told the Journal as he went searching for a fresh mango with his young grandson.

Chavez had his chain of supermarkets sign up for E-Verify on 14 August 2012, joining more than 30,400 employers in the state and 109,205 work sites across the state that belong to the expanding work-verification network, according to Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

According to Rodriguez, Mi Pueblo joined the program upon the federal government’s recommendation, and said it was a tough decision for the company executives to make.

This is something many Hispanic grocery stores” have to deal with, Rodriguez told the Journal.