Marietta is set to continue cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through a program that aims to prevent the hiring or continued employment of those in the country illegally.
The council voted unanimously at its Monday agenda work session to renew a program called IMAGE, or ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers.
Marietta has been IMAGE certified since Sept. 2015. If the council votes to renew that certification at its Wednesday meeting, it will last through August 2023.
To become IMAGE certified, an organization has to participate in E-Verify, an online system that allows employers to determine their workers’ immigration status. They must also perform self-audits of certain employment eligibility paperwork and allow further audits by ICE agents. Marietta has used E-Verify since August 2007.
Speaking at Monday’s City Council agenda work session, Marietta HR Director Davy Godfrey told the mayor and City Council the program benefits the city.
“This is a good program,” he said. “We’ve got self audits, we’re involved in E-Verify, we’re doing all the right things. And we’ve gotten commendations from the local office of the Department Homeland Security Investigations, they say we’re doing everything right. … By getting image certification, (ICE) agree not to take up any audits during the period of this agreement, which we have running for the next four years, and in addition, because we’re doing the self audits and doing the right thing, we’re not going to be fined, which is always a big concern for some of the employers out there. … There should be more employers willing to do this, because of that very reason, to avoid the fines.”
Godfrey added that the audits from the program have never turned up anything that would have resulted in a fine for the city.
Lindsay Williams, ICE public affairs officer for Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama, said ICE does not maintain specific data on the number of undocumented aliens discovered through the IMAGE program and is not aware of any specific instances of undocumented aliens being identified as part of the City of Marietta’s participation in the IMAGE program.
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. “The individual resolved the issue quickly and was fully cleared in a short time.”
Wiles said there are no costs for Marietta associated with participating in IMAGE or E-Verify.
Cobb County is also IMAGE certified, and so is the city of Acworth, Williams said.
Not everyone is copacetic about the cooperation.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said he thinks it’s not a city’s responsibility to enforce immigration laws.
“Being tough on immigration and actually doing something about it are two different things,” he said. “If the city is interested in doing something on immigration, that’s out of its purview. The federal government is tasked with enforcing immigration laws, not cities. It is a political statement being done unnecessarily, and it’s going to cause division in the city at a time when the community needs to be brought together. The city needs to think about that rather than scoring cheap political points.”
Gonzalez said the renewal is likely to further strain the relationship between Latinos and elected officials because it comes at an especially bad time – on Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing over 20. The suspect later told authorities he wanted to kill Mexicans.
Days later, ICE agents raided work sites across Mississippi, arresting 680 people in what the Associated Press called the United States’ largest immigration raid in a decade.
“Two days after a white nationalist committed a domestic terrorist attack against Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in El Paso, there were massive immigration raids in this country as well, with the president pushing a white nationalist agenda,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the kind of alliance the City Council will be allying with. … I don’t think the city of Marietta needs to be pushing a white nationalist agenda like the president is pushing.”
Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson did not share that perspective.
She said she would have reservations about the city actively investigating people, but that she is okay with taking steps to verify paperwork submitted by employees.
“I didn’t vote against it because it is only looking at the paperwork submitted to do a job,” she said. “And because of that, we are not investigating people and their backgrounds. These are people that have come to us to do a job and have given us the paperwork necessary to be in the position. We’re not searching for people. I would be adverse if it were saying ‘we’re laying ourselves open to be physically investigated.’ I don’t think I was ready for that vote. … If I come to get a job, I’m ready to show you the paperwork that I have, I know what I need to have. We’re just verifying that paperwork that we’ve already looked at as a city, and that’s fine with me.”