Federal immigration agents descended on a 7-Eleven in Santa Clara before dawn on Wednesday as part of a nationwide crackdown. According to news reports, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 21 people at 98 stores in what authorities described as the biggest operation against a company under President Trump’s administration.
ICE officials told reporters that this week’s sweeps were the first of many more to come for employers who hire undocumented workers. The audits could result in criminal charges or fines for employers, the agency cautioned.
“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 Thomas Homan said in a press release. “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.”
Authorities rarely prosecute hiring undocumented workers because investigations are cumbersome and convictions tough to win. Businesses often calculate administrative fines as another cost of doing business.
This week’s employer-focused immigration enforcement continues a longstanding practice that ramped up during the prior two administrations. George W. Bush aggressively investigated businesses for illegal hiring during his final term. Barack Obama more than doubled employer audits in 2013, according to ICE data.
Wednesday’s audits at 7-Eleven came as a result of a 2013 investigation of nine 7-Eleven stores on the East Coast. Eight of those franchisees wound up pleading guilty and getting slapped with $2.6 million in back wages. The ninth was reportedly arrested this past fall.
The 7-Eleven sweeps reflect Trump’s hardline stance on immigration, which led to a 43 percent uptick in arrests from 2016 to last year.