BOSTON (AP) — Milford, Mass. on Monday became the first town in New England to partner with federal immigration officials in a program aimed at preventing the hiring of illegal immigrants.
Under the voluntary program known as IMAGE — ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers — companies and municipalities are given education and training in proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection and the use of employment screening tools such as E-Verify. Certified employers also undergo an audit to ensure current employees are authorized to work in the United States.
Officials from Milford and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement signed the agreement Monday night at Milford's Board of Selectmen meeting.
"The newly formed partnership with ICE and the Town of Milford underscores this town's commitment to protecting the integrity of their workforce and to foster best hiring practices," Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, said in a press release.
"I am hopeful that other municipalities and companies will follow the actions that Milford has taken," he said.
Illegal immigration became a hot-button issue in Milford after several fatal car crashes involving illegal immigrants, including one in August 2011, when an allegedly drunken Ecuadoran immigrant struck and killed a 23-year-old motorcyclist. Nicolas Guaman was charged with vehicular homicide while under the influence and several other charges in the death of Matthew Denice.
The IMAGE program will be used to verify that town employees are eligible to work in the United States.
Milford Selectman Bill Buckley said the town of about 28,000 has long been a magnet for immigrants, in part because of a large supply of affordable rental housing. He said town officials hope the town's decision to join the IMAGE program will encourage businesses in town to do the same.
"What this does is say that employees hired by town hall, in the school system, the highway department, are subject to review by ICE. We get the verification in seconds, rather than days or months," Buckley said.
"We're looking to get private contractors and businesses to sign on to the program. The belief is that we can lead through example."
Foucart said that since ICE started the program in 2006, 163 businesses and nine municipalities around the country have signed agreements with ICE.
"Just as with a private employer, it's useful because it sends the right message in the community, that they (the town) are not going to be part of hiring illegally," Foucart said in an interview.
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, called the town's decision to join the IMAGE program a "pointless exercise" because it would check the status of town employees, and it's "very unlikely" illegal immigrant workers would seek employment with the town.
"Like many other enforcement programs, this is more about appearing tough rather than actually having an impact on our broken (immigration) system," she said.