ICE Director sends strong message to US businesses that employ illegals

Hardliners have been pressing for a tougher stance on employers.

"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 Derek Benner, ICE's Homeland Security Investigations chief.

"It's not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small", he said. "It's going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there", he said.

Thomas D. Homan, ICE deputy director, said Wednesday's inspections "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".

"7-Eleven takes compliance with immigration laws seriously and has terminated the franchise agreements of franchisees convicted of violating these laws", it said in a statement.

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Nationally, 21 people in 17 states were arrested and given notices to appear in immigration court, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said. AP points out that hiring undocumented people is rarely prosecuted, in part because employers can claim they were deceived with fraudulent documents. Businesses often calculate administrative fines as another cost of doing business.

President Donald Trump moved to end the programme in September, saying that Obama's actions were unconstitutional and an overreach of executive power. Barack Obama more than doubled employer audits in 2013, according to ICE data. And under him, ICE has reportedly made nearly 40 percent more arrests.

7-Eleven confirmed the raids to Salon, explaining that 7-Eleven franchisees are independent business owners, thus the franchisees are responsible for who they hire and their eligibility.

Several have pleaded guilty and forfeited their franchises, and have been ordered to pay millions of dollars in back wages owed to the workers.

Homan did not say why ICE went after the Irving, Texas-based convenience store chain, which has 60,000 franchises worldwide and is famous for its Slurpee drinks. Now that officials are focusing on store workers, employers are also at risk of facing criminal charges and even fines.

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"When these audits occur, the employees scatter in the wind and go down the street and work for somebody else", Peck said. Agents told arriving customers that the store was closed briefly for a federal inspection.

Despite the arrests, the early morning raids were specifically aimed at management.

In a statement, 7-Eleven said: "We are aware of ICE actions taken at certain franchise locations.

This obligation requires 7-Eleven franchisees to verify work eligibility in the US for all of their prospective employees prior to hiring".

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