Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided 77 businesses in Northern California for two days beginning Jan. 29, with the aim of weeding out undocumented employees.
Indian American Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, in a statement issued Feb.1, decried the worksite enforcement actions: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is wrong.”
“I firmly believe, as I know many of my colleagues and neighbors in our communities do, that law enforcement must prioritize criminals and not tear apart undocumented families who pose no threats to public safety,” said Khanna.
Earlier in January, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations agents hit 100 7-eleven stores nationwide, arresting 21 people (see earlier India-West story here: http://bit.ly/2mjUidH). 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.
In the earlier action, at least two Indian nationals were detained in Northern California, according to India-West interviews with 7-eleven owners and managers.
James Schwab, public information officer for ICE’s San Francisco, Calif., office, told India-West that this week’s actions involved multiple types of businesses, all unrelated to one another. No arrests were made during the two days, he said.
ICE determines which businesses to hit based on the employer’s I-9 – Employment Eligibility Verification – filings, said Schwab. An employer must have a valid I-9 for each of his employees.
ICE agents served each business with a notice of intent, which means the employer must produce valid I-9s within three business days, after which HSI will conduct an inspection for compliance.
NOIs were served in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, and other cities within the San Francisco office’s purview, which stretches from Bakersfield to the Oregon border. Schwab could not comment on whether similar actions would be taken in upcoming weeks.
“ICE Deputy Director Tom Homan previously stated that he has directed Homeland Security Investigations to step up worksite enforcement, to include conducting more I-9 audits in furtherance of pursuing more criminal investigations,” Schwab told India-West.
“The actions taken this week reflect HSI’s stepped-up efforts to enforce the laws that prohibit businesses from hiring illegal workers. HSI’s worksite enforcement strategy is focused on protecting jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthening public safety and national security,” said Schwab, quoting a statement issued by Homan Jan. 11.
As news of the raids began to emerge, Daljeet, who has owned a convenience store in Northern California for two decades and asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of being targeted, told India-West: “We are all very nervous. All my employees have proper work authorization, but does this mean we have to carry our papers into the shop every day?”
“We are unfairly being targeted because we are immigrants,” he said.
In an earlier story, ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke told India-West that the Jan. 10 raids were a “routine investigative component conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations.” He denied that specific communities were being targeted.
Nearly 100 people rallied outside of the ICE field office in downtown San Francisco on Jan. 25 in protest of the planned ICE raids, according to El Tecolote newspaper.
The American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against the 7-eleven raids. “Most Americans cannot imagine being corralled at the workplace or woken up in the middle of the night by strangers and forced to supply proof of citizenship,” said the organization, noting that ICE has taken actions against people whether they are documented or not.
In 2017, ICE conducted 1,360 I-9 audits and made 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests. Businesses were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeiture, fines and restitution and $7.8 million in civil fines.