Federal immigration agents Wednesday raided nearly100 7-Eleven franchise stores in 18 states and Washington, D.C., including four in Los Angeles and one in Culver City, in the largest operation against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents served “notices of inspection” — also known as I-9 audit notices — to 98 7-Eleven franchise stores, and conducted interviews with the stores’ employees and managers. Notices of inspection are “a tool used by ICE to ensure that businesses are operating with employees who have proper work authorization,” according to the federal agency.
Twenty-one people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally were administratively arrested and given notices to appear in immigration court, according to ICE.
Five stores were raided in Southern California — four in Los Angeles and one in Culver City, said ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley.
ICE did not release specific locations, but one of the stores was in the Koreatown area, where a lone employee with a valid green card was working when more than a half-dozen agents arrived and closed the store for about 20 minutes, according to The Associated Press. The agents, who arrived in unmarked cars, told arriving customers that the store was closed briefly for an inspection.
Derek Benner, a top official at ICE, told the AP that the 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,” Benner said. “It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there.”
In 2013, ICE conducted an investigation into various 7-Eleven franchises that resulted in the arrest of nine franchise owners and managers for conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities and concealing and harboring illegal immigrants employed at their stores. All but one — who remained a fugitive until his arrest in November 2017 — pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay more than $2.6 million in restitution for back wages stolen from workers.
Wednesday’s notices of inspections were served in Washington, D.C., and in the states of California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Stores Inc., which has more than 8,600 stores nationwide, released a statement in response to the raids, saying its “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. This means that all store associates in a franchised store are employees of the franchisee and not 7-Eleven Inc.
“As part of the 7-Eleven franchise agreement, 7-Eleven requires all franchise business owners to comply with all federal, state and local employment laws,” the statement continued. “This obligation requires 7-Eleven franchisees to verify work eligibility in the U.S. for all of their prospective employees prior to hiring. 7-Eleven takes compliance with immigration laws seriously and has terminated the franchise agreements of franchisees convicted of violating these laws.”
Benner said the Trump administration is pursuing “its own kind of unique strategy” tied to its broader emphasis on fighting illegal immigration, including enforcement on the border. Some workers may get arrested in the operations, but authorities are targeting employers because they are job magnets for people to come to the country illegally.
“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. “For those that don’t, we’re going to take some very aggressive steps in terms of criminal investigations to make sure that we address them and hold them accountable.”