The fruitcake factor: Collin Street Bakery’s workers become Texas House campaign issue
“To say you’re opposed to illegal immigration as a candidate and then to employ illegal immigrant workers in your business is political hypocrisy and business dishonesty.”
The following article was authored by Brittney Martin and originally published in the The Dallas Morning News. Reprinted with permission.
A candidate running to the right of a powerful House member from Corsicana says he wants to repeal policies that create incentives for illegal immigration. But his company — the world-renowned fruitcake maker Collin Street Bakery — has a history of employing unauthorized workers.
Thomas McNutt, a 25-year-old recent graduate of Texas A&M University, serves as vice president of the bakery. After seeing a Facebook post in which McNutt said he wanted to “prevent our community from being turned into a safe harbor for criminal illegal aliens,” former bakery employees who are in the country illegally spoke out, calling McNutt a “hypocrite.”
Jose Manuel Santoyo, an SMU student and former Corsicana resident, worked at the Collin Street Bakery during the 2012 holiday season. At the time, he was unauthorized to work in the U.S. because he’s a Mexican citizen who entered the country illegally with his family when he was 8 years old.
“It’s no big news in Corsicana,” Santoyo, now 23, said of the bakery hiring unauthorized workers. “They gave opportunities to everyone in the community, so for him to come out and speak publicly against some of his own employees really is shameful.”
McNutt, who is seeking to unseat House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook in the March 1 Republican primary, said he was not aware the company had ever employed unauthorized workers. McNutt was promoted to his current role in 2015, and was not involved in the hiring of Santoyo or Luis Aguilar, a second former employee who described his work history to The Dallas Morning News.
“I am completely opposed, personally, to employing illegal immigrants, and to my knowledge, we have never done that at the Collin Street Bakery,” McNutt said. “We do everything that the law requires us to do to prevent that from happening.”
He described himself as a “manager of managers,” overseeing five bake shops across the state and the company’s 130-150 employees, as well as hiring. He said he would look into the men’s claims.
Cook said his opponent’s policy didn’t “square up” with his practice.
“To say you’re opposed to illegal immigration as a candidate and then to employ illegal immigrant workers in your business is political hypocrisy and business dishonesty,” Cook said.
Aguilar worked at the bakery during the 2009 holiday season after graduating from high school in Corsicana. He moved there from Mexico with his family when he was 2 years old.
Collin Street confirmed that both had been employees. But the company denied knowing that any of its workers had been in the country illegally.
Santoyo and Aguilar both received authorization to legally work in the U.S. in 2013 under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows people who were brought to the country illegally as children to apply for jobs.
Aguilar said he was afraid to speak out against statements like McNutt’s before he was authorized to work.
“I would’ve been like ‘Oh, I can’t say anything because if I do what’s going to happen to me?’” Aguilar said. “‘I’m going to be the one being punished because I’m the one without actual documents to be working legal.’ Now I can say something.”
The former employees declined to say how they secured the positions without authorization to work in the U.S. But Bill Beardall, director of the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin, says that typically, either employers “ignore” the law and pay workers under the table, or unauthorized workers obtain counterfeit work documents, such as Social Security numbers or green cards.
“It’s kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell tradition,” Beardall said. “The employer looks at the documents, and if they look reasonably genuine on their face — and they do, the documents you can get look, to the unpracticed eye, quite genuine — then you accept them on their face and don’t ask any more questions.”
The federal government offers a system called E-Verify to ensure that Social Security numbers and permanent resident IDs match the names of the people applying for jobs. The program is voluntary and free for employers, but Beardall said less than 10 percent of employers participate.
Collin Street Bakery is not enrolled in the program.
Santoyo attended a Corsicana City Council meeting in August following a raid by federal immigration officials in which 27 people were detained. He urged council members to consider scaling back their cooperation with immigration officials in order to “build trust between the police and community.”
McNutt commended the Navarro County sheriff for his cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on the raids.
“A push to turn Corsicana into a ‘sanctuary city’ where public officials refuse to cooperate with ICE and other federal agents has already begun,” McNutt wrote on Facebook.
Some staunch conservatives have accused Cook of being soft on illegal immigration after he halted efforts to eliminate “sanctuary cities” and repeal a policy that allows unauthorized state residents to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges. Cook declined to schedule hearings on the bills in last year’s legislative session. He also authored a proposal that would have allowed those in the country illegally to obtain conditional permits to drive.
McNutt said such policies are incentives for people to enter the country illegally.
“It’s time that we take care of our own folks first before taking care of citizens of other countries,” McNutt said.
In December, the State Affairs Committee met to discuss “sanctuary cities,” which are loosely defined as counties or cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration laws and officials.
Cook said he will heed Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to reinforce a ban on sanctuary cities. But he doesn’t see the other policies McNutt hopes to challenge as incentives; he considers them smart policy.
“Kids like this, who have gone all the way through our schools and are wanting to continue to better themselves with educational skill sets, there shouldn’t be a roadblock,” Cook said, referring to the tuition policy, which dates to 2001.