ICE Agents Descend On Dozens Of 7-Eleven Stores In Immigration Operation

LOS ANGELES (CBS News) — U.S. immigration agents descended on dozens of 7-Elevenstores before dawn Wednesday to open employment audits and interview workers in what officials described as the largest operation against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency. Agents targeted about 100 stores nationwide, broadening an investigation that began with a 4-year-old case against a franchisee on New York’s Long Island. The audits could lead to criminal charges or fines over the stores’ hiring practices.

The action appears to open a new front in Mr. Trump’s sharp expansion of immigration enforcement, which has already brought a 40 percent increase in deportation arrests and plans to spend billions of dollars on a border wall with Mexico. Hardliners have been pressing for a tougher stance on employers.

“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,” Thomas D. Homan, ICE deputy director and senior official performing the duties of the director, said in a statement. “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.”

Derek Benner, a top official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told The Associated Press 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.”

Notices of inspection — NOIs — were served in Washington, D.C., as well as California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, ICE said in a statement, CBS News’ Jeff Pegues reports.

7-Eleven Stores Inc., based in Irving, Texas, with more than 8,600 stores in the U.S., didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Though agents arrested 21 people suspected of being in the country illegally during Wednesday’s sweep, the action was aimed squarely at management.

Illegal hiring is rarely prosecuted, partly because investigations are time-consuming and convictions are difficult to achieve because employers can claim they were duped by fraudulent documents or intermediaries. Administrative fines are discounted by some as a business cost.

George W. Bush’s administration aggressively pursued criminal investigations against employers in its final years with dramatic pre-dawn shows of force and large numbers of worker arrests. In 2008, agents arrived by helicopter at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and detained nearly 400 workers. Last month, Mr. Trump commuted the 27-year prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, former chief executive of what was the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking operation.

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