In the early morning hours of Jan. 10, 2018, a multitude of 7-Eleven locations experienced a surprise raid by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, searching for employees who lacked legal authorization to be employed in the U.S. According to NBC News, these raids took place in 17 states and the District of Columbia, concentrated on 98 different shops operated by the convenience store franchise. When all was said and done, 21 individuals had been arrested and detained by ICE that day.
"Worksite-related immigration enforcement is expected to increase considerably during 2018."
This event, as well as a series of other cases like it occurring in the recent past, serves as proof positive that the federal government under President Donald Trump aims to put its money where its mouth is in terms of immigration enforcement. The issue was a staple for Trump during his time on the campaign trail, and the president's first several weeks and months in office suggested it would remain a strong priority throughout the next several years. In the final few months of last year as well as January 2018, the pace at which this rhetoric has been supported by direct federal agency action has quickened significantly.
7-Eleven case dates back several years
NBC News reported that the 7-Eleven investigation that culminated in the Jan. 10 raids originally began in 2013. Back then, ICE was focused on a series of the company's franchises in New York and Virginia, which had employed more than 100 illegal immigrants. While that fact was more than enough to warrant ICE attention, it became clear that nine managers of 7-Eleven stores from those two states had stolen the identities of 25 U.S. citizens and were using their information to create bogus records for the undocumented employees.
Eight of the suspects were charged and pled guilty not long after 2013, and were ordered to surrender $2.6 million in back pay. The ninth was arrested in November 2017 and has yet to stand trial. The latest round of arrests netted 21 individuals. Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, did not specify why these people were charged in the agency's formal statement on the matter.
"Today's actions send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce," Honan said. "ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable. Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we are working hard to remove this magnet."
Similar cases from late 2017
What is clear - both from Honan's statement and ICE's broader actions of the past several months - is that worksite enforcement is going to become stricter and more frequent. In December 2017, the U.S. Attorney for Tennessee's Western District announced the arrest of 20 illegal workers, whom a Memphis, Tennessee-based staffing agency had assigned to a local freight forwarder. Authorities charged these individuals with submitting fraudulent documents to ensure their employment. An investigation jointly handled by ICE, the Justice Department and the Transportation Security Authority discovered the forgeries in question.
Not long before that - in October 2017 - the federal government had showed that attempts to fool E-Verify were also on its radar. According to the Corporate Immigration Compliance Institute, Asplundh Tree Experts, one of the premier companies in its sector, agreed to pay $95 million in penalties stemming from a wide variety of I-9-related violations. At the business' highest levels, leaders allowed regional hiring managers to control hiring entirely without the assistance of a compliance officer, which resulted in a significant number of illegal hires, but would've been against the law even if that weren't the case.
"A compliance officer may be beneficial to improving worksite employee verification processes."
This latter incident, however, does exemplify how some I-9 compliance issues can be quite easily mitigated. Companies can put out a hiring notice for a compliance professional trained in work authorization and related matters, or visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website for free training software.
Understanding all of the legal angles
Full compliance requires adherence to all laws related to work authorization, including those intended to protect employees' rights, as well as regulations specific to states and cities. As an example, JD Supra noted California's recent workers' rights legislation. This law bars employers from giving ICE or other authorities access to non-public areas of a worksite (and their workers), if those agents don't have a warrant specifically granted by a judge. Penalties for failure to provide the notices required under the new law are $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation. The penalties will be recovered by the Labor Commissioner.
Other states may follow suit, so employers should be on high alert for changes in local or state laws that will have similar effects. It's worth noting that what the California law does is extend the existing protections of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, so that they cover the state's private businesses as well. In a nutshell, it's upholding a core tenet of the Bill of Rights, and that fact might inspire legislators elsewhere in the country. Company leaders should take this to heart if a similar law gets passed in their state, so that they can protect their employees against undue harassment in full accordance with all applicable laws.