MARIETTA — County Commissioner JoAnn Birrell hopes to resurrect a fight she lost back in 2013.
At Birrell’s request, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security spoke before the Board of Commissioners Monday to explain how county businesses can become IMAGE-certified.
IMAGE (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers), a program offered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is a set of procedures that public and private employers agree to conduct during the hiring process to more thoroughly screen applicants for eligibility to work in the United States.
In 2012, Cobb County earned IMAGE certification. But Birrell wanted the county to go further. In 2013, she and Commissioner Bob Ott pushed to require IMAGE certification of contractors doing business with the county.
The local tea party endorsed the measure, as did Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren and the district attorney’s office. The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and Cobb Immigrant Alliance, meanwhile, spoke out in opposition.
The motion failed 2-3, with Chairman Tim Lee and Commissioners Lisa Cupid and Helen Goreham voting against it.
But Birrell may now have the votes to pass a similar ordinance. Monday’s presentation was co-sponsored by Birrell and Commissioner Keli Gambrill, who holds the west Cobb seat formerly occupied by Goreham.
Birrell said requiring county contractors to screen for worker eligibility was simply a matter of upholding the law.
Corporations are “breaking the law if they’re employing illegals. Period,” Birrell said. “To me, IMAGE gives more teeth, it’s an additional tool that we can use to verify legal employment (and) it helps with identity fraud.”
The county’s human resources department is “only aware of ‘fewer than 5’ incidents in the past ten years where the E-Verify program as part of IMAGE has identified any potential worker,” county spokesman Ross Cavitt said in an email Monday.
Employers using E-Verify submit their employee’s I-9 forms to a system that compares them to records from DHS and the Social Security Administration to confirm employment eligibility.
Marietta has been IMAGE-certified since 2015.
City spokesperson Lindsey Wiles said only one person has been flagged since the city received IMAGE certification in 2015, and that person was not working illegally.
“The individual had gone through the naturalization process that resulted in full citizenship, but the immigration attorney had failed to file a certain form more than 20 years ago with the (Social Security Administration),” she said.
Wiles said the individual resolved the issue quickly and was fully cleared in a short time.
“We want to ensure that all persons, regardless of their nationality, who are eligible to be employed are protected,” the agent, Paul Osborne, said. “Now that means American citizens obviously, but there is a huge class of immigrants and non-immigrants who are eligible to be employed in the United States. To simply say I’m going to hire only Americans is a discriminatory act. Believe it or not, that’s not what we’re here for.”