Immigration agents swept into dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores nationwide on Wednesday, checking employees’ immigration status.
In the early morning raids, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hit more than 100 stores across the country, arresting 21 people.The raids were the largest since President Trump took office and expands on the increased enforcement of existing laws. There has already been a 40% increase in deportation arrests since January 2016.
Derek Benner, a top ICE official, told the Associated Press that the operation was “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers that don't comply with the law.
“This is what we’re gearing up for this year and what you’re going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters,” said Benner, acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, which oversees cases against employers.
In Los Angeles’ Koreatown, seven agents who arrived in unmarked cars closed a store for 20 minutes to explain the audit to the only employee there, a clerk with a valid green card. Agents told arriving customers that the store was closed briefly for a federal inspection. A driver delivering cases of beer was told to wait in the parking lot.
The manager was in Bangladesh and the owner, reached by phone, told the clerk to accept whatever documents were served. Agents said they would return Tuesday for employment records they requested.
After the inspections, officials planned to look at whether the cases warrant administrative action or criminal investigations, Benner said.
“It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small,” he said.
In a statement, 7-Eleven Stores Inc., which has 8,600 stores nationwide, said individual store owners of its franchises are responsible for hiring and verifying work eligibility.
“We need to make sure that employers are on notice that we are going to come out and ensure that they’re being compliant,” Benner said.
George W. Bush used similar raids during his terms in office, the AP said. "In 2008, agents arrived by helicopter at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and detained nearly 400 workers. Last month, Trump commuted the 27-year prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, former chief executive of what was the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking operation."
But Barack Obama used employer audits, eschewing raids by ICE agents.