Immigrant rights advocates denounced the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids carried out Wednesday at nearly 100 7-Eleven stores across the nation.
According to Cristobal Gutierrez, employment legal advocate at Make the Road New York, they are "yet another example of the escalating attacks from the Trump administration and its rogue ICE agents on immigrant communities."
In the early morning raids at 98 stores in 17 states and Washington, D.C., agents conducted interviews and left audit notifications, and arrested 21 individuals suspected of being undocumented.
"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," said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan.
"Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration and we are working hard to remove this magnet," he added.
The management-targeting raids were conducted to follow up on 2013 investigations to ensure that "the company has taken the proper steps towards more responsible hiring and employment practices," ICE said.
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Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc., for its part, put the blame for potential unlawful hiring on franchise owners, who "are solely responsible for their employees, including deciding who to hire and verifying their eligibility to work in the United States," the company said.
The National Immigration Law Center described the actions as "extremely unnerving," while Gutierrez called them "a family separation tactic—nothing more, nothing less—meant to stoke fear in the hearts of our community."
Derek Benner, a top official at ICE, told AP that the blitz was "the first of many" and "a harbinger of what's to come" for employers and could target any "industry, big, medium and small."
Gutierrez, however, stressed that "In a moment where Trump and ICE are doing everything they can to harm our communities, we are equipping our community with the tools they need to protect themselves and their families. Our communities are here to stay."