Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials swept through 98 7-Eleven convenience stores across the U.S. early morning Jan. 10, and arrested 21 employees for not possessing requisite work authorization documents.

ICE Homeland Security Investigations special agents served notices of inspection, also known as I-9 audit notices, to 7-Eleven stores in California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Washington, DC. Indian Americans own many of the franchises across the country.

In Northern California, 7-Eleven stores in Napa, North Sebastopol, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Suisun City, and Petaluma were targeted. At the 7-Eleven on Lincoln Ave., ICE agents detained two employees, both Indian nationals, and arrested one, a store manager at a neighboring 7-Eleven told India-West. “We are not worried at this store; everyone here has papers,” he said.

In Petaluma, the 7-Eleven on Redwood Highway was also targeted by ICE officials. Paljeet, an employee at the store, said his father was there early morning as agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division swooped in. “They came at 6 a.m. in the morning, and asked my dad, who is a U.S. citizen, for papers,” Paljeet told India-West. His dad was able to produce his U.S. passport. The agents left after reviewing his father’s passport, but returned again with demands for more information. No one was arrested, according to Paljeet.

In North Sebastapol, ICE officials raided the 7-Eleven that Indian American Veena Mehta and her husband have franchised for four years. “They came at 5 a.m. and asked my husband for papers. Everything was okay, and they left,” Mehta told India-West, adding that no arrests were made.

No one answered several phone calls made to a 7-Eleven in Suisun City. An employee at a nearby convenience store told India-West he had heard about the early morning raid but could not confirm if anyone was arrested.

Approximately two-thirds of America’s convenience stores are owned by Indian Americans and other South Asians, according to data from the American Petroleum and Convenient Store Association. APCA declined to comment on the Jan. 10 raids.

ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke told India-West that the Jan. 10 raids were a “routine investigative component conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations.” In response to a question as to whether specific ethnicities were being targeted by the enforcement actions, Bourke said: “We are not targeting a specific community. Stores were targeted based on intelligence agents have obtained through an ongoing investigation.”

“The purpose of worksite enforcement is to ensure that the hiring practices of employers and owners are in compliance with U.S. law. If, during the course of this enforcement, we encounter an individual who is in unlawfully in the United States, then we would administratively arrest them and serve them with a notice to appear in immigration court,” said Bourke. He noted that ICE has publicly stated it will conduct more worksite enforcement.

“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 Deputy Director Thomas Homan in a press statement. “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,” he said.

A notice of inspection alerts business owners that ICE is going to audit their hiring records to determine whether or not they are in compliance with the law. Employers are required to produce their company’s I-9s within three business days, after which ICE will conduct an inspection for compliance.

In a 2013 similar raid of 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia, ICE arrested nine people, including eight Muslims.

Brittney Rezaei, immigrant rights attorney at the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told India-West CAIR is concerned about the raids. “We have seen this administration target immigrants with status and without. This is concerning and troubling.”

Rezaei noted the increase in targeting of immigrants since the advent of the Trump administration.

Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu tweeted: “Hey People who are upset about The Simpsons maybe getting rid of Apu, are you just as upset about the 7-Eleven immigration raids? Or do you just worry about the loss of immigrants who entertain you?”

“Instead of raiding 7-Elevens & imprisoning immigrants, how about we raid corporate boardrooms and find the people who pay unlivable wages?” he wrote in a subsequent tweet.

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