Leading the charge to adopt the federal immigration program are Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott, who have the support of the Georgia Tea Party, Sheriff Neil Warren, District Attorney Vic Reynolds and immigration activist D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society, among others.
Critics of the proposal include county chairman Tim Lee, Commissioners Helen Goreham and Lisa Cupid; Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials; and Rich Pellegrino of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, among others.
Lee said while he is open to hearing from residents what they think at tonight’s hearing, he is leaning toward voting against the proposal.
“As it’s currently written it’s unclear. It is also burdensome to business as a process with no clear, quantifiable benefit from any perspective, and under those terms I think it makes bad policy,” Lee said.
Lee told Georgia Tea Party Chairman J.D. Van Brink last month that he would try to find a better alternative than requiring contractors who bid on county projects to enroll in the federal immigration program, called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE).
“I’ve been struggling for a long time to find a better way, and I am unable to find one,” Lee said.
Lee explained why he supported the county enrolling in the IMAGE program last year, but opposes extending that requirement to county contractors this year.
“As I dug deeper into the program and the circumstances surrounding it, I felt that it raised a concern on my part as to whether or not it was right for local government to require a voluntary federal program onto businesses,” Lee said. “That was my first concern. So I reevaluated it and came to the conclusion that it may not be the best solution. We need to meet the objective of making certain that our tax dollars are not being utilized for illegal aliens.”
Ott said the intent of the ordinance is to ensure that the companies or contractors receiving payment from the county in the form of tax dollars have employees who are legally allowed to work in the U.S.
“I think that’s the No. 1 priority of the whole ordinance,” Ott said.
As for the worry that it’s too burdensome for a business to enroll in, Ott pointed out that there are already Marietta businesses enrolled that have said it’s no trouble.
Goreham has complained that it’s taken the county government 450 hours to complete the certification process, but such work is voluntary, Ott said.
“The 450 hours, the internal audit, that’s all voluntary,” Ott said. “If a company thinks that their I-9s are all up to speed, then they can just have the ICE guys come in and do the inspection, so I just don’t see it burdensome at all, and I think really it comes down to it’s just one more tool to basically enforce the law.”
Another important part of the proposed ordinance is that it addresses independent contractors who are not required to use the E-verify system, Ott said.
“Those are the folks that are paid with 1099 forms,” he said, referring to the form filed by independent contractors.
The Ott-Birrell proposal would require independent contractors to present identification such as a driver’s license before being hired for work, he said.
Also at the meeting tonight, the board will also take up a contentious code amendment proposed by Ott and Goreham that allows people who live on fewer than 2 acres to have hens. Residents may have hens by applying for an annual $150 variance with the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals, a request that would be ratified by the Board of Commissioners.
Birrell and Lee have both criticized the idea of having poultry on fewer than 2 acres, which means Cupid could be the swing vote.
“I believe given our metropolitan community of 700,000 people, that it’s best that we leave our ordinance the way that it is,” Lee said.
Tonight’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the board room at 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta.