Perla Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Mi Pueblo Food Center, based in San Jose, said Friday the company had been under "tremendous pressure" from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to use the worker status verification system. She said the audit began in August, but Mi Pueblo wanted to hire an attorney and tell employees before going public, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The company hired Arizona immigration lawyer Julie Pace, who estimated the audit could take between six months and four years.
She said audits of other clients have found from zero to 90 percent of their workers were in the country illegally. Union organizers said as many as 80 percent of Mi Pueblo workers were undocumented.
Rodriguez said the company does not believe any of its workers are undocumented.
The chain's owner, Juvenal Chavez, who was undocumented when he founded the store, will rehire anyone found working without the proper documents, once they are legally re-admitted to the United States, Rodriguez said.
The company's decision to submit to the E-Verify program has community and union groups urging a boycott of its 21 stores beginning Monday, the Times said. Union representatives charge Mi Pueblo joined the program in retaliation for their efforts to organize the chain's 3,200 employees.