Cobb commissioners tonight are expected to vote on a proposed code change that supporters say will ensure jobs paid for with taxpayer dollars go to legal U.S. citizens.
Under the proposal, contractors who do business with Cobb County would be required to apply for certification through the ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers program, commonly referred to as IMAGE.
It's all part of an effort to ensure that employers comply with federal immigration and employment guidelines.
Cobb experienced a public relations nightmare during the construction of the new Cobb courthouse after information surfaced that a contractor on the project had not verified the status of his employees. Despite that discrepancy, the contractor was allowed back on the job, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
District 2 Commissioner Bob Ott and District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, the co-sponsors of the Cobb IMAGE ordinance, said "the county can afford neither the time nor embarrassment suffered when the media discovered that illegal aliens working in 2009 were back on the same county job in 2010."
In a Saturday guest column in the Marietta Daily Journal, they wrote that "most of that problem was caused by contractors who evaded the (federal) E-Verify system by hiring illegal aliens and calling them 'consultants' hired as 'independent contractors.' "
While backers of the proposed code change say that it will prevent future instances of undocumented workers securing jobs through fraudulent means, critics say that IMAGE may not be the best way to tackle immigration in Cobb.
Chairman Tim Lee last month questioned if IMAGE had any teeth to it.
Meanwhile, District 1 Commissioner Helen Goreham, who joined Lee in supporting IMAGE when Cobb County decided last summer to participate in the program, isn't expected to vote for the ordinance that would extend the same requirement to contractors who do business with the county.
In a Feb. 17 guest column in the MDJ, Goreham wrote: "I am not in favor of an ordinance that mandates the program to companies that are already in compliance with state and federal laws. In essence, the proposed ordinance is declaring that all companies and vendors doing business with Cobb are guilty of hiring illegals until proven otherwise."
Likely to join Lee and Goreham in voting against the ordinance is District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid. During the Feb. 12 Board of Commissioners meeting, she said that IMAGE "seems like an intrusive process," according to the MDJ.
Not so, Birrell and Ott said.
"The ordinance we sponsor simply requires that businesses go through the IMAGE process one time to ensure that their current employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S.," they wrote in the Saturday guest column in the MDJ. "We don’t regard ensuring a lawful workforce on county projects to be an unfair imposition on any business that wants to be paid by Cobb County."
Tonight's meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the county building, 100 Cherokee St. After the third and final public hearing on the proposed code change, commissioners are expected to cast their votes.
If passed, employers would have until Jan. 1, 2014, to apply for IMAGE certification.