Rights groups are condemning convenience store giant 7-Eleven following reports that it has been complicit in immigration enforcement at franchises owned by critics of its corporate policy.
In January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted pre-dawn raids at about 100 7-Eleven locations across the country, arresting 21 workers and launching audits of employers. Franchisees who knowingly employed undocumented workers faced fines and jail time. The raids amounted to an unprecedented show of force by the Trump administration, apparently making good on promises to relentlessly crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Where previous administrations had either targeted employers or employees at workplace enforcement raids, the 7-Eleven raids went after both.
A recent Bloomberg story may offer some insight into why, in its bid to ramp up deportations of undocumented workers, ICE targeted 7-Eleven franchisees: Reporters Lauren Etter and Michael Smith found that 7-Eleven had "given the names of franchisees to the government," and that ICE conducted raids on several franchisees who have engaged in legal disputes with the company or vocally criticized chief executive Joe DePinto. Company policy states that the corporation can take stores back from franchisees found to be violating immigration law, according to Etter and Smith.
"Nothing to see here but corporate greed," says Kevin Solis, the spokesman for the immigrant rights group DREAM Team Los Angeles, speaking to Pacific Standard about the Bloomberg story. "DePinto is facing an age-old question of franchise arrangements: Does the corporate brand work for the franchise owners, or do the franchisees work for the corporation?"
And DePinto's answer to that age-old question is bad for human rights and for business, Solis says.
"It is obvious to see where he—wrongly—lands on this issue. Throw in his apparent use of government agencies to do his bidding to intimidate those who don't fall in line and you see how the government's departments are rigged against working people and align themselves with corporations. And you'll see the downfall of 7-Eleven as a desirable franchise opportunity."
Neither ICE nor 7-Eleven responded to Pacific Standard's request to confirm or deny Bloomberg's reporting.
A broad array of rights activists like Solis lambasted 7-Eleven over its reported complicity with the Trump administration's immigration enforcement, which in the 2018 fiscal year opened the largest number of deportation proceedings on record, according to recent figures from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. They say the company is guilty of weaponizing the administration's anti-immigrant agenda to silence opponents of its corporate policy.
"We condemn corporate headquarters colluding with ICE and the use of fear and intimidation tactics that harm workers and retaliate against franchisees," says Layla Razavi, the policy director at the California Immigrant Policy Center.
Others echoed Razavi in opposing 7-Eleven's reported efforts to team up with the Trump administration against its own franchisees.
"This is wrong on so many levels," Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of RAICES, another immigrant rights group, wrote in a comment emailed to Pacific Standard. "Not only is ICE using 7-Eleven to target immigrants; 7-Eleven management is using these attacks to punish franchisees, many of whom are immigrants themselves."
7-Eleven's reported utilization of the Trump administration's immigration policy as a means to sever ties with problem franchisees is not without precedent. "There's a long history of unscrupulous employers using ICE for the purposes of retaliation and intimidation, and these allegations should be thoroughly investigated," Razavi says. "Many private companies collude with the federal government to facilitate their targeted enforcement of immigrant workers."
The implications of 7-Eleven reportedly participating in the Trump administration's deportation machine extend far beyond America's convenience stores. "As the Bloomberg piece suggests, it is all too easy for companies to use their collusion with ICE to target and retaliate against immigrant employees," Razavi says.
What's worse, the weaponization of ICE by companies is a symptom of broader concerns over government opacity under the Trump administration.
"This illustrates the inherent unfairness of the way our federal government is wielding the power of ICE and [Homeland Security Investigations] in the workplace: with no real transparency or clearly articulated policy in place for if, how, or when it gets used, the federal government becomes used as a mechanism for corporate control," Razavi says. "With this administration, it's part and parcel of a government that is serving the interests of big business, not everyday workers."