Federal immigration agents raided 77 businesses in Northern California this week, demanding proof that their employees are legally allowed to work in the United States, officials said Thursday.
It was believed to be the largest such localized sweep of workplaces by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency since President Trump took office. ICE agents swept into nearly 100 7-Eleven stores nationwide last month and arrested 21 suspected undocumented immigrants.
Thomas Homan, the agency’s acting director, has called for a “400 percent increase” in such workplace operations.
ICE did not identify any of the businesses its agents visited in the Bay Area and the Sacramento region Monday through Wednesday. The businesses were served notices of inspection and given three working days to comply, and no immediate arrests were made.
Experts were struck by the scale of the operation.
“Serving 77 notices of inspection on different employers in the last three days within a single area of responsibility, in this case, San Francisco, appears unprecedented,” said Angelo Paparelli, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles with the firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
James Schwab, a spokesman for ICE, said the raids the reflected “stepped-up” efforts to enforce laws prohibiting businesses from hiring undocumented workers.
The operation is part of a strategy, he said, “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.”
Homan has repeatedly criticized California for state and local efforts to protect undocumented immigrants and limit law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with immigration officials. In December, he told Fox News, “We’ve got to take these sanctuary cities on. We’ve got to take them to court, and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.”
ICE has formulated plans for a broader operation in Northern California, intended to arrest large numbers of people considered deportable, but those have been placed on hold because of the sensitivity of congressional negotiations over immigration changes, said a source familiar with the matter.
Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said this week’s raids appeared to be a “retributive move by ICE to punish California and the Bay Area for their decision to not cooperate with other federal enforcement efforts.”
ICE inspections can lead to fines for businesses and criminal arrests of employers, in addition to immigration arrests of undocumented workers. During the last fiscal year, ICE served 1,360 such audits, making 139 criminal arrests and 172 immigration arrests. Businesses were ordered to pay nearly $100 million in forfeiture, fines and restitution.
In raids such as the ones this week, ICE agents demand that employers produce what are known as I-9 forms for their employees, which show that workers produced valid identification such as a Social Security card to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Sometimes agents also ask for employees’ proof of identity and work authorization.
Employees whose documentation fails to prove they have a legal right to work must be fired, and the businesses must verify to ICE that they have discharged the workers, Paparelli said.
The investigations from this week’s ICE raids “remain ongoing,” agency spokesman Schwab said. “Any potential criminal charges or other penalties will be coordinated with the U.S. Department of Justice.”
State legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this year requires that employers notify their workers of such an audit and provide them with the results. The law also mandates that employers ask ICE to obtain a judicial warrant before granting agents access to a work site.