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ICE conducts pre-dawn raids of 7-Eleven stores, looking for illegal workers

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Immigrants face deportation, and stores face fines for illegal hirings

That clerk you noticed stocking the back shelves at 7-Eleven last week might not be working there the next time you go back.

The U.S. Department of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raided dozens of 7-Elevens Wednesday before dawn as part of an effort to root out employees who may be working without proper authorization. Depending on the results of the investigation, hundreds of workers may face deportation, and the chain store may face significant fines.

“It’s the beginning of an initiative the [Trump] administration has been talking about for a while to have audits of employers and to ensure that all their workers are working legally and not without status,” J. Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies said in an interview. “So this is the first volley, I would say, in what will be a long-term initiative on by the administration.”

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.

Agents arrested 21 people suspected of being illegal immigrants during Wednesday’s raids, but the action was primarily targeting the company, which is based in Irving, Texas.

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.

Though the Bush and Obama administrations carried out similar operations in attempts to enforce immigration laws, Wednesday’s action comes in the midst of other tough action from the Trump administration. On Monday, it announced that temporary protective status for people who came here from El Salvador in 2001 due to two devastating earthquakes would have to go home by October 2019.

Collectively, the actions may have immigrants nervous. But they also are putting employers on notice as well.  AP noted that Wednesday’s operation resulted from a 2013 investigation that discovered that the managers of nine 7-Eleven franchisees in New York and Virginia used more than 25 stolen identities to employ at least 115 people in the country illegally. This allowed them to pay below minimum wage, according to court documents.

The 7-Eleven stores ICE visited on Wednesday will be required to produce documents showing they required work authorization.

Appleby believes the intent of the raids is to increase fear among illegal immigrants and employers, and to discourage immigrants from coming to the United States in the first place.

“The administration doesn’t have all the resources to deport everyone they would like, so they’ve been implementing this fear campaign, led by the president, so that either undocumented immigrants either leave or go into the shadows,” he said. “I don’t think they don’t have the resources to go into every industry in the country or every 7-Eleven store. They pick their spots, get the press out, and the intent is to discourage the hiring of workers who don’t have legal immigrations status and to release them if employers do have them to let them go.”

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