U.S. immigration agents swarmed approximately 100 7-Eleven stores nationwide before daylight on Wednesday to initiate employment audits and interview workers in what officials characterized as the largest operation against an employer within the past year.

According to the Associated Press, the initiative represents the broadening of an investigation related to a 4-year-old case against a 7-Eleven franchisee on Long Island in New York.

The “compliance inspections” could result in criminal charges or fines related to the company’s hiring practices.

Opponents of illegal immigration have been pushing for a tougher stance on employers who hire aliens, and the current ICE operation might represent an expansion of enforcement in that sector.

Derek Benner, a senior official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that Wednesday’s operation was “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers, warning that more employment audits and investigations are imminent.

“This is what we’re gearing up for this year and what you’re going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters. From there, we will look at whether these cases warrant an administrative posture or criminal investigation,” said Benner, acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, which oversees cases against employers.

“It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big, medium and small,” Benner said. “It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there.”

Twenty-one people suspected of being in the country illegally were arrested during Wednesday’s sweep, although ICE contends that the audits are focused on management.

The 7-Eleven stores targeted on Wednesday will be required to produce documents verifying that they required work authorization, which will become more common, according to Benner.

7-Eleven Stores Inc. is based in Irving, Texas, and operates more than 8,600 stores in the U.S.

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