It’s time to set the record straight.
Very few of the critics appear to understand what IMAGE (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers) actually is. To understand it, let’s first look at its forerunners.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) introduced the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal workers. To comply with this law, employers must collect information regarding an employee’s identity and employment eligibility and document that information on ICE’s Form I-9. An employee must provide personal information on the form, such as name and date of birth, and then attach certain supporting documents. ICE periodically audits employer records and imposes severe penalties when they find the employer has been negligent in performing their obligations in this regard.
“While Form I-9 requires employers to collect information, in the early days of IRCA there was no way for employers to verify that the information employees provided was valid or that the documents presented were genuine — that is, until E-Verify. E-Verify is an online program that offers employers a powerful tool to help protect themselves against those who try to cheat the system. By adding E-Verify to the existing Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process, a company can benefit from the peace of mind of knowing that it maintains a legal workforce.” (From www.ice.gov/image)
Please note that proper processing of Form I-9 is required by federal law. E-Verify was not introduced as law, however, several states have since passed legislation to make its use a legal requirement. Georgia happens to be one of those states with laws requiring the use of E-Verify.
In the spirit of the above, Cobb County has incorporated strict Contractor Compliance requirements into all contracts, with severe punitive action to be taken against any contractor or its sub-contractors found in violation. No violations have been detected since this policy was implemented in 2010.
In 2006, ICE introduced the IMAGE program. IMAGE is not law. It is a voluntary partnership initiative between the federal government and private sector employers, designed to foster cooperative relationships and to strengthen overall hiring practices. IMAGE consists primarily of employer training classes, policies, procedures and internal audits, all per a 12-point list of “best employment practices” which can help improve the employer’s proficiency in processing Form I-9 information. ICE developed this initiative to induce employer self-compliance and to assist ICE in their enforcement program with the hope that employers will achieve a lawful workforce through self-policing of their hiring practices.
Since IMAGE is a voluntary partnership, ICE has offered a penalty abatement incentive to attract participation of employers.
Cobb’s Board of Commissioners is currently considering a new ordinance wherein the county will mandate IMAGE program certification by all companies who would like to perform work for us. Companies who have not applied for certification will not be eligible. We are scheduled to hold a final hearing on the proposal on Feb. 26.
I voted in favor of IMAGE in the summer of 2012 when Cobb County decided to participate in the program. I continue to support our IMAGE partnership and still believe that the 12-point “best employment practices” should eventually be adopted by most employers. However I am not in favor of an ordinance that mandates the program to companies that are already in compliance with state and federal laws. In essence, the proposed ordinance is declaring that all companies and vendors doing business with Cobb are guilty of hiring illegals until proven otherwise.
Instead of a mandate, I would like to propose a task force, consisting of staff, ICE, employers (WellStar, Lockheed, Home Depot, etc.) and (immigration activist) D.A. King, to evaluate the situation and recommend a practical course of action.
Finally, as a Republican, I am against bigger and more intrusive county government that would dictate how an employer runs its business. Rather, as a leading employer with IMAGE certification, the county should provide counsel and support to those who choose to move ahead with it in the future.
But, there is no way to justify the proposed ordinance now.
Helen Goreham represents northwest Cobb on the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.