Cobb steps up security at courthouse construction project

Cobb County officials are stepping up security efforts at the county’s courthouse construction project.

Beginning this week, the sheriff’s office will conduct background checks on employees working on the project to ensure that the site is both safe and secure, said Sheriff Neil Warren on Tuesday.

By August 13, the sheriff’s office plans to have background checks completed on all current and future employees prior to them being allowed on the work site, county spokesman Robert Quigley said.

Tuesday’s announcement follows ongoing concerns by residents and outside legal immigration advocacy groups that illegal immigrants were allegedly working on the project.

“The county needs to take whatever actions are necessary," Commissioner Bob Ott said. "There needs to be a concerted effort on the county’s part to help us make sure that the people working on that project are all cleared to work in this country.”

Earlier this year, allegations emerged that illegal immigrants were working on the courthouse project when it was found that a sub-subcontractor employing bricklayers was not verifying that his employees were legally allowed to work in the United States.

State law requires contractors and subcontractors on public jobs to use a federal program called E-Verify, which runs names through a database and checks Social Security numbers and immigration information to make sure a worker is allowed to work in the United States.

The sub-subcontractor, Victor Candelaria, was removed from the job and his brick mason employees were let go. Two of the employees returned and went to work for Zebra Construction, a subcontractor on the project, according to a July 8 e-mail sent to commissions from Allen Kronenberger, the county’s project manager. “We have checked these two employees and they do have legal status to work in the United States,” Kronenberger said.

Members of Jobs for Georgians, a construction industry advocacy group, questioned the validity of the workers' documents during a county commission meeting Tuesday morning. A WSB-TV report last month featured an unidentified worker on the project, someone who posed as an illegal immigrant and was able too get falsified immigration documents and a Social Security card through underground providers for $100 in five hours.

“The county needs to do more to make sure this isn’t happening,” said John Ciancia, a Jobs for Georgians representative. “We are concerned that the proper enforcement is not being done and we’re not getting any answers, only being told [by the county] that they are looking into it.”

All workers on the project currently have a work ID that demonstrates that they have been checked through E-verify. The sheriff’s background checks should be able to root out anyone with fraudulent documents. After the background checks, workers will be issued a new ID badge.

Representatives for lead contractor Turner Construction attended Tuesday’s meeting with county officials, and declined comment after the meeting. Subcontractor, Zebra Construction also declined comment.

Rich Pellegrino, a leader of immigrant advocacy group, Cobb Immigrant Alliance, said the new background checks push the limits of the law. “My immediate reaction is that this exceeds the limits of [Warren’s] agreement with the federal government regarding immigration enforcement,” Pellegrino said.