Hundreds of 7-Eleven stores had some surprise visitors this week... from ICE

If you happened to be lining up for coffee yesterday morning at a 7-Eleven convenience store in California, D.C. or a few other locations, you might have encountered some unexpected activity. ICE agents rolled up on more than one hundred of these establishments, cleared out customers, paused the entry of other shoppers and began going over the ID, citizenship status and paperwork of the employees. Some of the stores came up clean while others, well… not so much. (Associated Press)

Seven immigration agents filed into a 7-Eleven store before dawn Wednesday, waited for people to go through the checkout line and told arriving customers and a driver delivering beer to wait outside. A federal inspection was underway, they said.

Within 20 minutes, they verified that the cashier had a valid green card and served notice on the owner to produce hiring records in three days that deal with employees’ immigration status.

The well-rehearsed scene, executed with quiet efficiency in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, played out at about 100 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and the District of Columbia, a rolling operation that officials called the largest immigration action against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency.

This latest ICE operation is long overdue and begins the process of hitting one of the often overlooked but badly needed targets in the effort to curb illegal immigration. By this point we should be prepared to ignore the complaints of racism, sexism, anti-coffeeism or whatever other protests are sure to follow and focus on what this effort signifies. Previous ICE sweeps around the country last year were still targeting specific illegal aliens, generally the ones with serious criminal charges pending. This effort is instead targeting employers who flout the law (or simply aren’t diligent in the hiring process) and provide the magnet which attracts so many border jumpers. As long as jobs are plentiful for illegal aliens, the incentive will remain to take their chances and come into the country illegally.

We’ve discussed this here on any number of occasions, but there is one sure way to drastically reduce illegal immigration and it has nothing to do with walls, more Border Patrol personnel or anything else (though we clearly need those things as well). When you see the owners and executives of major employers standing in front of a federal judge in an orange jumpsuit being handed some serious jail time, the hiring of illegals will basically stop. That, in turn, will vastly reduce incidents of people sneaking into the country as soon as the word gets around.

Unfortunately, 7-Eleven might not have been the optimal company to start with. Much like many fast food outfits, there are few, if any, convenience stores in their chain which are actually owned and operated by the company. Most of them are franchise operations and the company puts the responsibility for screening and hiring on their shoulders. But still, some owners have a significant number of stores so the impact will be felt. The problem here, as the AP notes, is that prosecuting the employers remains difficult. If they are not forced by law to use E-Verify, they will generally blame the illegal immigrants for using forged identification or some other scheme to get around the rules. And even E-Verify can’t catch everyone.

Still, this is a promising start. Employers need to know that the days of ICE looking the other way or letting them off with a slap on the wrist are over. Derek Benner, acting chief of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations is quoted as saying these audits were “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers. We need these employers to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and if it takes a few of them being locked up to get the message across, that’s what we’ll have to do.