Allegood said the Acworth government is taking steps to become certified for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE, program.
Acworth is the first of Cobb’s six cities to take this step. The Cobb Board of Commissioners enrolled in the IMAGE program last year and the county government is in the process of becoming certified.
Allegood said a couple weeks ago he and other city officials met with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent to learn more about the IMAGE program.
“We made a decision to move forward and be certified,” Allegood said. “I think it’s important because if you really understand this IMAGE program, it’s really a self audit, it’s voluntary, and it basically helps to ensure the fact that you are compliant and that your folks who are working for us are legal.”
Acworth City Manager Brian Bulthuis said there are a couple of steps a business or government goes through to achieve IMAGE certification. The first is to use E-Verify, an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.
Because using E-Verify is a state requirement in Georgia, Acworth has already met that step. The next step, Bulthuis said, is to conduct a self audit of the city’s roughly 200 I-9 forms.
According to Bulthuis, the ICE agent said the forms could have technical problems on them, such as missing dates.
“There’s all these what they call violations,” Bulthuis said. “They’re very ‘dot your i’s and cross your t’s.’ (The ICE agent) said that’s what 99 percent of the problems that we see is that people have forgotten one document or they didn’t date it properly or they used the wrong form.”
Bulthuis said one of his human resources people reviewed the I-9 forms, and he had two others check them.
“We have a couple hundred to look at, so it took maybe two or three days, but not eight hours straight. Couple hours here, couple hours there,” he said.
The next step is for the Acworth Board of Aldermen to adopt a policy agreeing to conduct a self audit once a year, a policy the board is expected to vote on Thursday, Bulthuis said.
The final step is for ICE agents to come do their own audit, after which time they will issue the certification, he said.
Anyone is subject to an ICE audit just as anyone is subject to an audit of their income taxes by the IRS, Bulthuis.
ICE conducts a couple thousand audits in the U.S. each year, Bulthuis said.
So what are the odds that your company is going to get audited? It’s not that great, but he says people do. “They do get audited,” he said.
There are technical violations and major violations that ICE may find.
“If they find like three technical violations, they can waive them,” Bulthuis said. “If they found like 100 violations, and you really didn’t self audit, then you’re still subject to a fine. But what happens is because you’re doing the IMAGE program, that gives them the ability to work with you to wave fines or lower fines because their goal is to make the process work. They’re not out there looking to get you. They just want your paperwork correct.”