San Diego businesses turn to ICE IMAGE program to ensure legal employees

A little known employment verification program run by ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) is spreading throughout San Diego County and the country. IMAGE (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers) is a relatively new tool for employers in the fight against illegal immigration.

While the E-Verify program is widely known and now used by hundreds of thousands of businesses nationwide to check their employee’s legal eligibility, the IMAGE program goes far beyond fast and easy computer background checks. The IMAGE program ensures that businesses use Homeland Security’s ‘best hiring practices’ to help detect fraudulent documents through education and training.

The IMAGE certification process gives business owners the peace of mind their current employees are legal and customers can see an IMAGE certification sticker in the window (similar to the Better Business Bureau-BBB) to show that the business is complying with all Federal laws.

“IMAGE is a win-win partnership between ICE and the business community,” said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Diego. “The training and education employers enrolled in the IMAGE program receive gives them the tools they need to develop a more secure and stable workforce. And beyond that, each time a new company voluntarily signs up as an IMAGE participant, we are better able to protect lawful workers in this challenging economy.”

The IMAGE program is a free service operated by ICE and takes 4-6 weeks to complete. During the process, the ICE agent makes several visits to the business to conduct on-site training and inspection of the I-9 hiring documents.

Earlier this month, UNICEL Corporation in Escondido, CA became the first business in that city, known nationwide for its strong stance against illegal immigration, to be IMAGE certified.

UNICEL owner Mike Henderson says he was glad to take an active role in combating the number one draw of illegal aliens to the country.

“We are pleased to be IMAGE certified. We learned a lot about what legal documents look like and now feel confident as a business,” Henderson said. “The process was painless, enjoyable and now we will avoid any fines because we have the correct paperwork.”

At the ceremony last week was newly elected Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, who is also a legal immigrant. “I am proud that UNICEL went through the program and it reassures city residents that Escondido businesses are doing everything in their power to have a legal workforce.”

ICE Special Agent John Murakami, who conducts IMAGE audits and certifications for San Diego County, attended the ceremony and presented UNICEL with their IMAGE certificate. Agent Murakami said he enjoys this aspect of the job.

Also attending the ceremony was Jim Betz, owner of Betz Concrete which is also located in Escondido. His cement business is nearing completion of their ICE audit and they hope to have their IMAGE certification by the first of the year.

“I sleep well at night knowing I am hiring American workers in this tough economy,” Betz said about the IMAGE program. “It’s definitely worth it to get the paperwork in order. Before IMAGE I didn’t know what to look for when employees provided me with I-9s.”

Currently San Diego County has six businesses that are fully IMAGE certified and according to ICE several more are in the pipeline.

Local secure borders activist Jeff Schwilk hopes more businesses will see the many benefits of being IMAGE certified and sign up with ICE. “IMAGE is a powerful tool for businesses who want to follow the law and hire only American and legal workers,” he said. “IMAGE certification tells the public this business has gone above and beyond in their hiring practices and can be fully trusted. It also gives them a leg up on their competition which is so important in this recession and period of high unemployment.

For more information on the IMAGE program visit;

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© Copyright 2010 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.

About thekdreport

Investigative journalist

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