The New IMAGE Program From Homeland Security
January 30, 2007
By Bob Kraft
Category: Immigration Policies
Over the past several months, Bush administration officials and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been trying to convince businesses that rely heavily on foreign workers to join a little-known program that would spare them from federal raids so long as they voluntarily handed over their workers' documents so the government can scan them for fraudulent information.
To prevent unlawful employment and reduce vulnerabilities that help illegal aliens gain employment, the Department of Homeland Security introduced the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program. The goal is to assist employers in developing a more secure and stable workforce and to enhance fraudulent document awareness through education and training.
The program calls on businesses to submit all I-9 employee eligibility verification forms to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for an audit and to ensure the accuracy of wage reporting by verifying workers' Social Security numbers.
As part of IMAGE, ICE will provide education and training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, use of the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program and anti-discrimination procedures. To obtain these benefits, a company will have to submit to an I-9 audit by ICE, and verify the Social Security numbers of their existing labor forces.
According to ICE, "The IMAGE program also serves to foster improved relations with businesses vital to U.S. national interests as part of ICE's role in critical infrastructure protection."
Currently, participation in the program is voluntary. An employer that complies with IMAGE will become "IMAGE certified," a distinction ICE hopes will become an industry standard.
The government's efforts under IMAGE are much broader than those under another program, Basic Pilot, in which businesses voluntarily enroll. Companies that take part in Basic Pilot can check the Social Security numbers provided by job applicants against a national database of Social Security and immigration records.
In December 2006, ICE rounded up nearly 1,300 immigrants in raids on meatpacking plants run by Swift & Co. The arrests were highly criticized by Swift's President, who stated that the company relied in good faith on the Basic Pilot program, and had participated in the program since 1997. The system, however, did not identify stolen Social Security numbers or numbers that are being used in multiple locations. A Swift spokesperson stated that the company will not participate in the IMAGE program since they do not see any benefit in signing up for additional obligations when the Basic Pilot program had flaws in identifying illegal workers.
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