Wednesday morning before dawn, immigration agents conducted surprise audits and inspections at 7-Eleven stores across the nation. The mass operation included about 100 stores in the District of Columbia and 17 states: California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.
The audits could result in criminal charges and fines for store owners and managers, who were the primary targets of the operation. The Associated Press describes the process in one such store:
“Seven immigration agents filed into a 7-Eleven store before dawn Wednesday, waited for people to go through the checkout line and told arriving customers and a driver delivering beer to wait outside. A federal inspection was underway, they said.
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.”
Also according to the AP, an official with ICE said that the operation was “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come.” Derek Benner, acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, said that this is the sort of thing the agency has been working up to this year, and that more large-scale compliance inspections – which won’t be limited to only large companies or any one industry – could be expected. ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said in an official statement:
“Today’s actions send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce: ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable,” said Thomas D. Homan, ICE Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director. “Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration and we are working hard to remove this magnet. ICE will continue its efforts to protect jobs for American workers by eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration.”
While the nationwide operation did result in the arrest of 21 employees suspected of being in the country illegally, the focus was on a large-scale employer that was, as former head of ICE Julie Myers Wood said, a repeat offender.
Wednesday’s audits were inspired by a 2013 investigation that resulted in charges against nine 7-Eleven franchisees and managers across New York and Virginia. According to the court documents from these cases, managers used more than 25 stolen identities to hire at least 115 illegal aliens, knowing that they could save some money by paying below minimum wage.