DENVER – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents fanned out to interview employees at 7-Eleven stores across the country, including in Colorado, early Wednesday in a massive immigration enforcement operation.
ICE and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) agents served I-9 audit notices to 98 different 7-Eleven franchises nationwide in order to audit employment records and interview workers to ensure they are working legally in the U.S.
Six of the 98 stores targeted were in Colorado, though no arrests were made here. Twenty-one people were arrested nationwide in the sweep.
Similar notices were served in 16 other states and Washington, D.C.
The investigation into 7-Eleven franchises started in 2013 after nine franchise owners were arrested for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, identity theft and harboring undocumented immigrants. Eight have since pleaded guilty at been ordered to pay back $2.6 million in stolen wages, ICE said.
In the last fiscal year, ICE undertook more than 1,300 I-9 audits and arrested 139 criminals. Under President Obama, the audits went to 3,100 per year in 2013. Those numbers were about half that during Obama’s first term and much of President George W. Bush’s term.
Wednesday’s action focused on franchise owners and managers suspected of hiring illegal workers, though ICE said that any illegal worker encountered during the operations could face administrative actions and deportation.
“Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration and we are working hard to remove this magnet,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan. “ICE will continue its efforts to protect jobs for American workers by eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration.”