MARIETTA — Residents lined up to speak passionately to Cobb commissioners Tuesday about a code change that would require contractors doing business with the county to apply for certification to a federal program that identifies illegal immigrants.
Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell have proposed that the contractors who do business with the county be required to apply for federal IMAGE certification.
Tuesday was the first of two public hearings on the matter. The second is on Feb. 26, when commissioners are scheduled to approve or reject the code change.
While Ott and Birrell support the proposal, county chairman Tim Lee has doubts about its usefulness and commissioners Helen Goreham and Lisa Cupid say they are undecided.
“It was what I thought I would hear that I’ve heard in the past in relation to E-Verify,” Goreham said, referring to an online system designed to help employers confirm eligibility of job applicants. “The comments that I heard tonight were similar to when we were deciding whether or not we were going to sign onto E-Verify.”
Goreham said she will be ready to make her decision after the next hearing. Cupid said the same thing.
“I think compelling arguments were made on both sides, and I think it’s fair to let people have their say and to weigh each of those comments individually,” Cupid said.
One of the more emotional parts of the evening was when Billy and Kathy Inman of Woodstock, the parents of Dustin Inman, a 16-year-old boy killed in a traffic accident in 2000 by illegal immigrant Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, addressed commissioners.
Due to the accident, Kathy Inman now requires the use of a wheelchair.
The couple urged commissioners to adopt the code change, saying it would discourage illegal immigrants from being employed by the county.
“I’d do anything if I could get my son back today,” Billy Inman said. “I’m not going to be a grandpa. All my dreams are shattered.”
Phil Kent of Sandy Springs, who was appointed to the state’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board by Gov. Nathan Deal, also urged approval of the code change.
“I say that because your leadership here can help deter ID theft and illegal immigration and the jobs lost to illegal workers, not only in my own county of Fulton but in other major counties, and I say that because many of the contractors that do work in Cobb also work in Fulton and other major counties,” Kent said.
Dr. Bill Hudson of Marietta played a series of media clips detailing coverage of the scandal that occurred a few years ago when illegal immigrants were discovered helping to build the county courthouse building.
“It’s also alarming that less than two years until the next election Commissioner Goreham may have backed up on her determination to prevent a repeat of the scandal endured on the illegal alien workers at the Cobb Courthouse,” Hudson said.
Eric Herfurth of Acworth and Dave Richardson of east Cobb, who both urged commissioners to adopt the code change, said it was about protecting jobs for citizens.
“No matter where we live, we are tired of losing our jobs to illegal labor,” Herfurth said. “We haven’t forgotten the fact that some of us couldn’t get a job on the Cobb County Courthouse.”
Lance Lamberton of Austell denounced the proposal, quoting the words of Emma Lazarus emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty.
“Unfortunately in recent years our country, our state, and now even our county is seeking to turn its back on this noble tradition with a xenophobic mindset which says in essence outsiders are no longer welcome, especially those with Hispanic surnames,” Lamberton said. “Yet what crime have these people committed other than to want to make a better life for themselves and their families by pursuing the American dream through hard work and sacrifice, just like my ancestors and yours did when they first came to our shores. I for one welcome them with open arms and ask that you do the same by rejecting this politically expedient requirement.”
Pat Henry of Marietta, who asked commissioners to approve the code change, rebutted Lamberton.
“In regard to the Statue of Liberty, I think that most of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island would take offense at being compared to illegal aliens,” Henry said. “You want to talk about fairness? You want to talk about need? Those are people who suffered greatly to come here and pay their way.”
Immigration activist D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society pointed out that the current E-Verify system the county uses is only used for newly hired employees. It cannot be used to verify someone who was hired before E-Verify was authorized by the federal government.
“IMAGE, on the other hand, does exactly that,” King said.
In addition, King said the ordinance will address the fact that E-Verify only works for employees. An independent contractor is not an employee and cannot be run through the E-Verify system, King said.
The county itself is already IMAGE certified, which stands for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers.
The code change would require all contractors doing business with the county to apply for federal IMAGE certification, which is a voluntary partnership initiative between the federal government and private sector employers designed to strengthen overall hiring practices.