Workers and managers at 7-Eleven stores in D.C. and Maryland were questioned by immigration agents on Wednesday in what officials described as the largest operation against an employer under Donald Trump's presidency.
Three 7-Elevens in D.C. and seven in Maryland were among the 98 franchise locations where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) served audit notices, the agency confirmed Thursday.
ICE said the Maryland locations are in: Baltimore; Frederick; Glen Burnie; Landover; Pasadena; Severna Park and Upper Marlboro. ICE did not release any specific addresses, or information on the locations of the D.C. stores.
The agency targeted stores in 17 states, including California, New York and Texas. 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.
ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan, who is performing the duties of the director, said the agency will eliminate "unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration.
“Today’s actions 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,” he said in a statement.
Derek Benner, a top official at ICE, said the operation Wednesday was "the first of many" and "a harbinger of what's to come" for 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 Benner, acting head of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, which oversees cases against employers.
After the inspections, officials planned to look at whether the cases warrant administrative action or criminal investigations, Benner 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.
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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.