Agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a pre-dawn raid on 7-Eleven stores across the nation, arresting 21 workers as a warning to employers who had mostly been tacitly allowed to employee undocumented aliens.
ICE agents dropped in on 98 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and the District of Columbia, in what the agency called the largest operation targeting an employer since President Trump took office in 2017.
While those arrested were employees, ICE wants employers to know that they are also targets.
“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,” ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said in a 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” – ICE Acting Director Tom Homan
Read more: https://t.co/Xqtzrt9QsQ
— ICE (@ICEgov) January 10, 2018
A Jan. 10 press release from the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arm stated, “Ensuring each of its employees is legally authorized to work in the United States is one of many responsibilities facing every American business, from small start-up operations to our country’s largest and most prosperous corporations.”
The press release continued, “HSI is sending a strong deterrent message to all industries that companies who knowingly hire unauthorized workers will be investigated resulting in possible civil or criminal penalties.”
HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Derek Benner made it clear, “It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small. It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there,” reported AP.
EAD Benner later told AP, “We need to make sure that employers are on notice that we are going to come out and ensure that they’re being compliant” for hiring decisions.
In an email statement, 7-Eleven said it “takes compliance with immigration laws seriously and has terminated the franchise agreements of franchisees convicted of violating these laws,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Individual 7-Eleven store owners have been charged by ICE in the past.
In 2013, HSI agents arrested nine franchise owners and store managers in Virginia and New York, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. They were charged with running an elaborate ring which stole identities and used them to hide their undocumented workers.
The violators brought over undocumented workers, gave them fake identities, housed the workers in houses they owned, and took most of their wages, according to an ICE press release.
Eight of the nine pleaded guilty to multiple crimes. ICE seized 14 7-Eleven franchises, the property on which the stores were located, and five houses owned by the violators. The ICE press release called it “the largest criminal alien forfeiture in its history.”
A New and Welcome Direction
Immigration enforcement had primarily been aimed at the undocumented immigrants themselves prior to president Trump taking office. People who crossed the border illegally to work for often illegally low wages in dangerous conditions were arrested and deported, while the companies which profited from their labor and their illegal status were ignored.
Because the companies would hire undocumented workers, the workers kept coming back across the border illegally.
By focusing on the employers, the Trump Administration is removing the attraction.
“Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration and we are working hard to remove this magnet,” said ICE Acting Director Tom Homan on Jan. 10, reported AP.
ICE officials said that this raid was the first of many more to come.
“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,” acting HSI Director Derek Benner told AP.
The ICE website highlights a recent case against landscape and tree-cutting company Asplundh Tree Experts, Co. This nationwide company recently paid the largest civil fine ever levied by ICE—a total of $95 million dollars—for knowingly hiring and rehiring undocumented workers.
Of that total, $80 million was forfeited profits, and $15 million in penalties was for failure to comply with immigration law.
Asplundh was found to have knowingly hired and rehired workers using false documents, and even restructured the company’s hiring policies so that upper-level management would be insulated from the illegal practices.
HSI investigated for six years before finally confronting Asplundh’s upper management with its findings,. The company agreed to pay the fine.
It’s About Jobs
In its Jan. 10 press release, ICE points out that its priority is to provide good jobs for legal workers.
“ICE will look for evidence of the mistreatment of workers, along with evidence of trafficking, smuggling, harboring, visa fraud, identification document fraud, money laundering and other such criminal conduct.,” the press release, adding that the HSI would actively investigate “employers who use force, threats or coercion—such as threatening to have employees deported—to keep unauthorized alien workers from reporting substandard wages or unsafe working conditions.”
ICE’s Acting Director summed up the new policy in a tweet: “ICE will continue its efforts to protect jobs for American workers by eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration.”