Federal immigration agents raided about 100 7-Eleven branches before dawn this morning in what officials said is the start of a crackdown on the employment of undocumented workers across all industries.
Although the restaurant business was not specifically mentioned as a target, the trade is known to employ a large number of immigrants. About 1.4 million of the 12.7 million people employed in the industry in 2016 were foreign-born, according to an estimate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of kitchen employees lacking proper documentation has been estimated by the Pew Institute to exceed 20%.
Officials of the Homeland Security Department, the agency that oversees immigration, said this morning’s raids were the most far-reaching since President Trump took office a year ago. The chief executive repeatedly indicated during his campaign that he intended to enforce immigration laws more aggressively. Deportations have increased 40% during his presidency.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents audited employment records and interviewed employees to find workers who might be in the country illegally. News reports said that 21 people were arrested.
ICE conducted the I-9 audits in 98 7-Elevens within 17 states and the District of Columbia. An official told the Associated Press that the coordinated raids were “a harbinger of what’s to come” and “the first of many.”
“It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry,” Derek Benner told the news agency. “It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there.”
“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 Homan, ICE's deputy 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.”
Brenner said the public will witness “similar large-scale compliance inspections” during the remainder of 2018.