LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigration agents descended on dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores before dawn Wednesday to begin checking on employees’ immigration status 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 four years ago with a case against a franchisee on New York’s Long Island. The audits could lead to criminal charges or fines over the stores’ hiring practices. Twenty-one people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally were arrested.
The action appears to open a new front in Trump’s expansion of immigration enforcement, which has already brought a 40 percent increase in deportation arrests.
Derek Benner, a top official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Wednesday’s operation was “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers.
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“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,” said Benner, acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, which oversees cases against employers.
In Los Angeles’ Koreatown, seven agents who arrived in unmarked cars closed a store for 20 minutes to explain the audit to the only employee there, a clerk with a valid green card. Agents told arriving customers that the store was closed briefly for a federal inspection. A driver delivering cases of beer was told to wait in the parking lot.
The manager was in Bangladesh and the owner, reached by phone, told the clerk to accept whatever documents were served. Agents said they would return Tuesday for employment records they requested.
After the inspections, officials planned to look at whether the cases warrant administrative action or criminal investigations, Benner said.
“It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small,” he said.
7-Eleven Stores Inc., based in Irving, Texas, said in a statement that the owners of its franchises are responsible for hiring and verifying work eligibility.
The chain with more than 8,600 convenience stores in the U.S. said it has previously ended franchise agreements for owners convicted of breaking employment laws.
Unlike many previous enforcement efforts, Wednesday’s…