The good news is that a narrow majority of that board now appears to favor requiring all contractors and subcontractors who do business with the county to apply for federal IMAGE certification. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers program, or IMAGE, would require such contractors to submit to a federal audit and inspection of their employment procedures. Then, if no problems are found, there would be no further audits for two years.
Use of IMAGE would go hand-in-hand with the E-Verify system, which is used to check the immigration status of newly hired employees.
Cobb County applied for and signed an agreement to become IMAGE-certified by the feds last spring, meaning the county as an employer uses E-Verify and has completed an internal audit of past hiring records and has taken the required steps to avoid legal actions resulting from unauthorized employment. At the time it was only the tenth community in the country to be certified.
The changes to the county’s code now being considered would require the contractors the county hires to swear on an affidavit that they have a valid application pending with ICE to become IMAGE-compliant, and that they will complete the IMAGE certification process to be able to bid on contracts. As we said above, approval of those changes should be a no-brainer for Cobb’s commissioners.
But unfortunately, it’s not.
For starters, the initial draft of the revamped ordinance prepared by the county development director did not even mention the word “IMAGE” and merely restated the federal and state law. That prompted east Cobb Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell, who had been pressing for the IMAGE program, to ask for a redrafting of the proposal. The latest wording makes clear that contractors and subcontractors would have to provide an affidavit saying that they have submitted an application for the IMAGE program and intend to comply with the program’s requirements. False swearing on such an affidavit is a felony under state law, and contractors who do so could be barred from bidding on a county contract for 12 months.
West Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham on Tuesday indicated she favors the stronger wording as well.
Unfortunately, Commission Chairman Tim Lee and new southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid are still on the sidelines. Cupid said Tuesday she is “researching” the issue, while Lee said last week he is wary of unintended consequences of the program, such as its cost of implementation or the possibility that enacting the program would give the county a reputation as being “uncompetitive for new business.”
If we’re talking about “reputations,” wouldn’t it be preferable that Cobb be known as a place where people don’t have to worry about losing jobs to illegal aliens hired at below-market wages by unscrupulous contractors and greedy businessmen? Does Cobb want a reputation as a haven for law-breakers and for employers who thumb their nose at the law? And if the county government thinks it’s OK for its contractors and business people to ignore the law and hire illegals without penalty, to what other laws might the county be prepared to turn a blind eye?
The Cobb Commission held a hearing on the IMAGE program on Tuesday and has another slated for Feb. 26.
Commissioner Ott said it best the other day: “The (IMAGE) program is a step in the right direction to making sure that the people that are entitled to work are the ones that get the jobs,” he told the MDJ. “This is not about deportation. This is not about forcing people to leave the country. This is simply about making sure that the jobs that are available in the county go to the people that are legal — nothing more and nothing less.”
It is absurd for the county government to be IMAGE-certified, but not to require IMAGE certification of those with whom it does business. That’s clear to most Cobb residents already — and we hope it soon will be clear to the entire Cobb Commission.