Cobb County became the first Georgia municipality to enlist in a new federal immigration enforcement program to ensure all government employes have legal immigration status.

Cobb Commissions became early adopters Wednesday of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program aimed at weeding out undocumented workers from government and private business payrolls. The suburban Atlanta county joined the ranks of only ten other municipal government’s to participate.

The program, which is also offered to businesses, makes available federal verification tools in exchange for enlistment in the E-Verify program and an audit of existing staff.

The measure has predictably rankled some in the immigrant community, who turned out on Wednesday to protest the commission’s vote.

“So much for the law and order arguments of being tough on immigration, because it’s only hurt the public safety of this community,” Rich Pellegrino of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance said at the hearing today. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how trying to drive out one segment of the community, who work hard and pay taxes here, has a ripple effect through the whole community, resulting in budget deficits, the closing of businesses and so forth.”

It’s not the first time the county has embraced aggressive immigration policing. Cobb’s sheriff department is one of only four in the state with special authority to enforce federal immigration law.

Ten bricklayers and two cleanup workers hired in 2010 construction of the county’s new courthouse were outed as undocumented workers after a local police investigation. Because the workers subcontracted through a private employer who failed to verify employment eligibility, IMAGE would not have caught the fraudulent immigration documents.

But Commissioner Bob Ott says the ultimate goal is exclusively award government contracts to those businesses who likewise enlist in IMAGE.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Ott admitted. “But the message it sends out is the county is going to be serious about making sure that we’re going to try to get the jobs to people that are entitled to have them.”

– James Richardson