CHICAGO -- A firsthand account from the Associated Press of the immigration check that went down in a Los Angeles convenience store paints a dramatic scene: Shortly before dawn, seven immigration agents waited for customers to file out of the store, while telling others, including a beer-delivery driver, to wait outside while they conducted a federal inspection.
"Within 20 minutes, they verified that the cashier had a valid green card and served notice on the owner to produce hiring records in three days that deal with employees’ immigration status," the report says.
Meanwhile, similar incidents were taking place at 97 other 7-Eleven stores across the country.
Here's an early look at what went down, and what it means to the c-store industry ...
On Jan. 10, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) descended on nearly 100 7-Eleven convenience stores in 17 states before dawn to open surprise employment audits and interview workers.
What Were the Results?
Agents arrested 21 people suspected of being in the country illegally during the sweep, but the action was primarily aimed at management, according to reports, as most or all store franchisees were served notices to produce hiring records.
“Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we are working hard to remove this magnet," Thomas D. Homan, ICE deputy director, told AP. "ICE will continue its efforts to protect jobs for American workers by eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration.”
ICE said the Jan. 10 raids were part of a broadening of a 2013 investigation in New York and Virginia that led to indictments against nine men and women for conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities and concealing and harboring undocumented immigrants employed at 7-Eleven franchise stores.
But some are reading more into the choice. "If ICE hoped to make a bold statement, it could hardly pick a more iconic target than 7-Eleven," the New York Times reported. "Many a 7-Eleven franchise has been a steppingstone for new legal immigrants who want to own and run their own small businesses, [but] not all franchisees have been scrupulous about whom they hire."
For its part, 7-Eleven said, “Franchisees are independent business owners and are solely responsible for their employees including deciding who to hire and verifying their eligibility to work in the United States."
How Does This Connect to the Trump Administration?
Several reports highlighted the fact this was the largest employee operation against an employer so far under Donald Trump's presidency. Trump campaigned on a hardline against undocumented immigration and has signed executive orders hardening the country's policies regarding immigration.
Some administration officials, meanwhile, have been pressed for a tougher stance on employers. And the 7-Eleven raids came just one day after Trump met with lawmakers from both parties to negotiate a compromise toward immigration reform. While, during that meeting, Trump appeared to offer a softer view on the subject, the raids the next day may have been intended as a display of strength on the issue.
Will There Be More Raids?
Count on it.
Derek Benner, a top official at ICE, told AP that Wednesday’s operation was “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers. He said there would be more employment audits and investigations, though there is no numerical goal.
“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. From there, we will look at whether these cases warrant an administrative posture or criminal investigation,” said Benner, acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, which oversees cases against employers.
“It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small,” he said. “It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there.”