ICE Raids 100 7-Eleven Stores—and the Trump Administration Says It's Just Getting Started

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles, on February 7, 2017. The agency arrested 21 people suspected of being in the country illegally during Wednesday’s raids at 7-Eleven stores nationwide. (REUTERS)

Updated | Federal immigration agents stormed into nearly 100 7-Eleven stores nationwide in an unprecedented search for undocumented workers under President Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

And Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it is only getting started.

"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," Derek Benner, acting executive associate director for ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, told the AP. "It's not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small. It's going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there."

It is illegal for employers to knowingly hire unauthorized workers living in the United States illegally.

In a statement, the parent company of the 98 raided markets, the Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Stores Inc., said it was aware of the sweep, but stressed that its franchisees are "independent business owners" that are "solely responsible for...deciding who to hire and verifying their eligibility to work in the United States."

Wednesday's raids represent the largest single-operation by ICE against employers under Trump.

According to the AP, the 7-Eleven stores served on Wednesday "will be required to produce documents showing they required work authorization." In all, 21 people were arrested at locations in the states of California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.

ICE said in a statement that the enforcement effort would "send a strong message" to employers to only hire documented workers.

"ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable," Deputy Director Thomas Homan said in the 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."

Benner said these kinds of sweeps would become more common during the Trump presidency.

"We need to make sure that employers are on notice that we are going to come out and ensure that they're being compliant," Benner told the AP. "For those that don't, we're going to take some very aggressive steps in terms of criminal investigations to make sure that we address them and hold them accountable."

The administration has drastically stepped up immigration enforcement in the United States. ICE arrests of suspected undocumented aliens are up 40 percent since Trump took office, federal stats show. The administration has also given federal immigration agencies the green light to arrest anyone suspected of being in this country illegally.

The enforcement effort at 7-Eleven comes with some irony. The company's president and CEO, Joseph DePinto, contributed $2,000 to Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, federal records show.

The raids came hours after U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco blocked a Trump administration move to end protections for children brought to the country illegally by their parents. The University of California system, more than a dozen state attorneys general, and at least one participant in the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are currently battling the Department of Homeland Security in court.

Story was updated to add the number of arrested workers and add the ICE statement.