It’s a standard the county holds its own employees to but the commission decided in a split vote in February that it would not require contractors who do business with the county to follow the same rules.
The program is called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE.
Cobb came under fire in 2010 when Jobs for Georgians, an activist group, said a subcontractor working on the construction of the Cobb Superior Courthouse was employing illegal workers, even though the county and contractor both used E-Verify, a federal program that compares information from employee verification forms to data from government records.
Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott asked the board in early 2013 to approve a code change that would require all county contractors to participate in IMAGE and become certified by the federal government, documenting that they have no illegal workers on their payrolls.
But Cobb Chairman Tim Lee and Commissioners Helen Goreham and Lisa Cupid killed the proposal. Other critics included Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and Rich Pellegrino of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, among others.
Lee used WellStar Health System’s objections to the program as a reason for his vote against IMAGE. WellStar provides medical services to inmates at the county jail at a discount and told Lee it would not enroll in the IMAGE program, even if the county adopted the ordinance.
That would make WellStar ineligible to do business with the county and potentially force Cobb to contract with a company that would not offer the same discount.
Goreham, who was the commission’s swing vote on the subject, sparked outrage among residents such as immigration activist D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society for her opposition.
Cupid suggested to her colleagues that alternatives be pursued, such as random audits for county contractors. And if a company was found to have employed illegal workers, she suggested they be fined.
She also supported bringing in ICE officials to conduct training.
Residents turned out in droves to support Ott and Birrell’s proposal at the meeting where commissioners took their vote.
The Georgia Tea Party, Sheriff Neil Warren, and District Attorney Vic Reynolds, among others, supported the proposal that was voted down.
After voting against it, Goreham suggested creating a committee to study the best ways to ensure tax money does not go to supporting illegal immigrants.
A county staff immigration committee was created in late May and is expected to bring recommendations before the Board of Commissioners in January.