U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a group that's been harassing Latin American immigrants in the United States since long before Donald Trump took office, has been altogether giddy in the past 12 months. Trump has, in ICE's own words, allowed the agency to "take off its kid gloves" and hunt down undocumented people at an increased clip. As the New York Times reported this morning, ICE conducted 98 predawn "inspections" (read: raids) at 7-Eleven stores across the nation in what the agency says was an attempt to arrest undocumented immigrants and sanction employers who hire undocumented workers.
This afternoon, Nestor Yglesias, ICE's South Florida spokesperson, confirmed that five 7-Eleven locations from Vero Beach to Homestead had been visited by ICE agents today. The agency has not released the addresses of the enforcement actions but listed a county-by-county breakdown. Raids occurred in the following areas:
- Miami-Dade County, at one Miami Beach and one Homestead location
- Broward County, in Davie and Fort Lauderdale
- Palm Beach County, in Haverhill
- Indian River County, at two Vero Beach locations.
ICE didn't say if any undocumented immigrants were caught in South Florida, but it did say that 21 suspected people were caught and sent to immigration court across the nation. ICE said that raids occurred in 17 states and Washingon, D.C., and that 1,360 similar raids occurred last year, netting 139 criminal arrests and 172 "administrative" arrests, likely for civil immigration violations. (Local 10 News first reported on raids occurring in South Florida.)
"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,” Thomas D. Homan, ICE deputy director, said in a news release. “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.”
In a statement to the media, 7-Eleven itself says it terminates franchises that are caught hiring undocumented workers.
"7-Eleven takes compliance with immigration laws seriously and has terminated the franchise agreements of franchisees convicted of violating these laws,” the company told the New York Times.
But there's ample evidence to show that a few predawn raids won't do much to scare employers in the Sunshine State. As the investigative team at the Naples Daily News expertly detailed last month, Florida law is basically designed to let employers hire undocumented people as little more than indentured servants in dangerous and labor-intensive jobs such as construction and farm work. Employers then kick workers to the curb if they get hurt, need time off, or ask for basic rights.
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In fact, the Naples Daily News noted multiple cases in which Florida employers called ICE on their own workers. According to the paper, at least 163 immigrant workers were arrested by ICE after they got injured on the job. In at least 153 cases, the immigrant's own employer reported him or her.
Last year, ICE released data showing that undocumented arrests in Florida spiked 75 percent after Trump took office. It's easy to blame the president alone for the increase in immigrant arrests, but that increase doesn't tell the whole story: Trump's spike last year still didn't come close to topping the peak reached under Barack Obama. Immigration activists say they have very credible fears that Trump could ramp up ICE enforcement actions even further as his administration limps onward.
In fact, ICE reported today that it conducted a similar 7-Eleven sweep in 2013 that led to nine franchise-owner arrests.
"Today’s service of NOIs ["notices of inspection"] throughout the United States serves as a follow-up to ensure the company has taken the proper steps towards more responsible hiring and employment practices," ICE announced.