CHICAGO -- Last week, immigration agents paid unannounced visits to nearly 100 7-Eleven convenience stores. The series of audits and investigations led to 21 arrests, but the goal was to send a message that the operation was to be “the first of many” targeted at employers, Derek Benner, a top U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official told the Associated Press.
Convenience stores should take his word for it, Joe Kefauver, managing partner for consulting firm Align Public Strategies, told CSP Daily News. “This is pure political theater; it’s head-hunting,” Kefauver said. “It’s on.”
Here’s how retailers can prepare for looming immigration raids ...
Get the paperwork in order
After hearing the news about the actions at 7-Eleven, Michael Lied suggested the first thing retailers do is look through their I-9 forms. Lied, an attorney and counselor for Howard & Howard in Peoria, Ill, said these are the documents that certify employees’ eligibility to work stateside.
“Even if every team member is hired legally, incorrectly filled out I-9 forms could still cost c-store owners," Lied said. “Fines increased this last year,” he said. “It could cost them $200 to $2,000 per one form.”
If retailers do find errors on the forms, Lied recommends making changes and initialing to show officials good faith. In addition, electronically verifying legal employment with E-Verify also helps protect employers and might even become mandatory eventually, he said.
Make a plan
No manager or store owner was present at a 7-Eleven location audited in Los Angeles, according to CNBC. Creating a worksite enforcement action plan can help ensure employees are not caught off guard by an ICE visit, said Alisa Nickel Ehrlich, partner at Stinson Leonard LLP in Wichita, Kan. The plan should include a phone tree of who to call and a reminder for employees to ask to see identification and review any warrants. Retailers don’t have to come up with the plan on their own. C-stores can consult with an immigration attorney. “You don’t have to arm every employee to know how to deal with a warrant, you just need to make them prepared enough to deal with those first steps so things are handled properly,” she said.
To streamline communication between workers and their families and lawyers, Lied said c-stores can also give staff resources to create a family preparedness plan. The plan compiles contact information, health information, child or eldercare plans and important documents so that dependents are not abandoned during a possible retention. If employees do have medical or childcare needs, retailers should communicate the needs to the immigration officers, Nickel Ehrlich said. “Don’t forget about the well-being of employees,” she said.
Appoint an expert
Some employers might think the paperwork is meaningless or a raid won’t happen to them, but retailers can’t afford that kind of thinking anymore, Lied said. “Designate one person in HR who is going to look at this properly, so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot,” he said. "Make it someone's job to be up to speed."