ARLINGTON — An Arlington-based aerospace company has become one of only 44 employers in the state, and 254 in the nation, to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in a program designed to strengthen its hiring practices, reduce fraud and ensure it employs a legal workforce.
Universal Aerospace’s companies — which include C&D Zodiac, B/E Aerospace and Jamco America — already employ 180 workers, but once they become compliant with International Traffic in Arms Regulations, they’ll be able to receive jobs from the government and military.
“More importantly we’re proud to be a leader among Pacific Northwest aerospace companies in obtaining IMAGE certification,” Universal Aerospace controller Talitha Bagtas said.
IMAGE stands for ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers. It’s a voluntary program that allows businesses to partner with the government to reduce unauthorized employment and the use of fraudulent identity documents.
Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle, explained that Universal Aerospace falls under the agency’s focus on critical infrastructure, since the company supplies custom machined parts to customers in the aircraft interiors and airframe manufacturing sectors.
“Our IMAGE partnerships enable HSI to foster best practices in the employment arena, and that, in turn, contributes to a safe and productive work environment,” Bench said. “When employers make a proactive commitment to hire and maintain a lawful workforce, it’s good for their business and it’s good for the community.”
In the months to come, HSI special agents and I-9 auditors will work with Universal Aerospace management to help them complete the IMAGE certification process. As part of this process, the company has voluntarily enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ free Internet-based employment eligibility system, E-Verify. This will establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy, including internal I-9 audits at least once a year.
“As an immigrant myself, this definitely gives me a sense of pride and security,” Bagtas said.
As part of the IMAGE program, ICE provides private companies with education and training on proper hiring procedures and the use of employment screening tools such as E-Verify. IMAGE certified companies also undergo an audit of their I-9 forms to ensure their current employees are eligible to work in the United States.
“It also speeds up the process of becoming ITAR compliant, especially since those documents number in the thousands of pages,” Bagtas said.
Bench added: “Most employers want to make sure they’re employing a legal workforce. This program helps reduce the risk of criminal fines.”
Andrew Munoz, public affairs officer for HSI Seattle, emphasized that IMAGE partnerships are not limited to companies dealing with critical infrastructure.
Companies in Washington state interested in obtaining more information about the IMAGE program are encouraged to contact HSI Seattle’s IMAGE coordinator at 206-442-2200.