Demonstrators question Chipotle's employment practices

A showdown over workers rights, and rights of illegal immigrants, sparked a spirited protest Thursday. Demonstrators spoke out against the firing of hundreds of workers by the restaurant chain Chipotle.

They held a march in Columbia Heights Thursday, beginning at the Sacred Heart Church.

A Chipotle official insists the employees were fired because they didn't have the proper work papers. Protestors believe that regardless of legal status, workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Dozens marched through Columbia Heights bound for a fast-food chain known for building big burritos. They delivered 7,000 petitions to the area Chipotle, blasting the company for recently firing 40 Latino employees. Protestors say the workers were fired without warning or severance pay.

“They make millions of dollars off their back. It's another example of corporate abuse and greed,” said community activist Pedro Aviles.

A Chipotle spokesperson said the employees were let go because they provided fraudulent documents when asked to verify their legal status.

Miguel Bravo, who declined to disclose his immigration status, was among those let go. “If we have papers or not that is not the issue,” he said. “What we want is our money back."

An immigration review of Chipotle's workers has spread to 60 of its restaurants in Virginia and the nation's capital, the Denver-based chain said in Feburary. Chipotle fired hundreds of workers in Minnesota after Immigration and Customs Enforcement reviewed employees' I-9 forms last year and found some with "suspect documents." The I-9 forms prove whether employees are eligible to work in the United States. Agents recently questioned Chipotle managers in connection with the probe.

A chipotle spokesperson says the company is cooperating fully with the investigation and cannot employ anyone not legally authorized to work in this country. The company now uses the "e-verify" program to check the legal status of prospective employees.

With reporting from the Associated Press.