Investors likely gave no thought to I-9 compliance when buying shares in the Mexican fast food restaurant Chipotle. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement I-9 audits of the company’s restaurants that began late last year and are ongoing already have resulted in hundreds of allegedly unauthorized workers losing their jobs. That was just the beginning. With the ever-widening government investigations and audits of the company’s workforce, investors are starting to take notice. A report this week indicated that at least one investor intends to approach Chipotle about its workforce woes.

Clearly it’s too early to predict what impact the I-9 audits and resulting terminations will have on Chipotle’s financial health. Nonetheless it is yet another reminder of the piecemeal approach to reform our nation’s immigration laws. After the attempt at comprehensive reform failed in 2007, the government increasingly has focused on workplace enforcement. The few voices in Congress still pushing for immigration reform see this as a vital issue that must be addressed before attempting any meaningful discussions with members generally opposed to changing the current system. The theory is that once there is uniform compliance and enforcement of the nation’s workforce, as well as secure borders to the north and south, a dialogue can begin to address other issues such as employment-based visa quotas and family reunification. (In some cases, individuals for employment-based immigration sponsorship can expect to wait 20 or more years to get their green cards.)

If recent headlines are any indication, 2011 will be an interesting year for the immigration debate. I-9 audits continually appear to be on the uptick. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina this week indicated they may pursue immigration reform once again in the Senate. In the meantime consumers can enjoy a few more burritos.

If you missed our recent webinar, Before the Government Comes Knocking:  Benefits of Conducting an I-9 Self Audit, we invite you to listen to the recording.