There's evidence to suggest that the company's corporate owners are using immigration law against their own franchisees

By Tim Nelson
Updated November 12, 2018
Credit: SOPA Images/Getty Images

For countless immigrants over the years, a job at 7-Eleven was the first step on the path towards achieving the American dream. Indeed, the convenience store company’s history is full of such success stories, with new arrivals to the US working their way up the ranks to eventually own their own stores and join the ranks of 7-Eleven franchisees.

But recent years have seen mounting tensions between 7-Eleven’s corporate bosses and these franchisees, inspiring complaints about both company policy and enforcement tactics. Now, reporting from Bloomberg suggests that 7-Eleven potentially sees ICE raids and other immigration enforcement actions as a way to keep vocal franchisees in line—and replace the ones who don’t.

During the tenure of CEO Joe Depinto, franchisees argue, owning and operating a 7-Eleven has become less lucrative and more stressful. They’ve been required to stock thousands of different items and fork over a greater share of store revenue, moves that have inspired franchisees to both organize together and even sue their corporate overlords.

In response, Bloomberg alleges that Depinto has deployed a number of private investigators whose aim was to build cases against troublesome franchises, which could provide a pretext to terminate their agreements if enough violations (up to and including immigration noncompliance) were discovered.

As part of that process, 7-Eleven handed over the names of franchisees to the federal government. Three officials who work for Homeland Security Investigations (which falls under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, along with ICE), told Bloomberg that this list of names has been used as the basis for immigration inspections at multiple 7-Eleven stores.

7-Eleven asserts it didn’t have advanced knowledge of the January ICE raids that targeted a full 98 7-Eleven franchises across 17 states (plus Washington, DC). Gurtar Sandhu, for example, had his downtown LA 7-Eleven raided and was told he had three days to send records about every one of the employees who’d worked there over the past three years. Given his involvement in two lawsuits against the company (one as a material witness), it didn’t take long for he and others in similar positions to connect the dots.

The situation seems liable to only get more contentious. 7-Eleven has introduced a new contract or franchises that includes an $8,000 grand opening fee and a $50,000 renewal fee, with 59 percent of gross franchise profits going to 7-Eleven. It also contains a provision requiring its stores to comply with US immigration law, which could provide further pretext for raids against troublemaking franchisees. Greg Franks, a senior vice president at 7-Eleven, said that more than 80 percent of eligible franchises are expected to sign the new agreement.

Despite the dire situation faced by some franchisees and their employees, answers haven’t been forthcoming. Bloomberg’s story concludes at an annual franchisee-organized meeting, in which an agent with the Department of Homeland Security was unable to provide any answers about why 7-Eleven franchises were being raided by ICE, to the vocal chagrin of many in attendance. At a time of great uncertainty for both franchisees and the immigrant communities that many of them represent, their frustration with the suspicious use of a politically controversial tactic to affect their livelihood is certainly understandable.