BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts sheriff who offered to send county jail inmates to help President-elect Donald Trump build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is joining a partnership with federal immigration officials that will allow his staff to identify and detain inmates who may have entered the country illegally.
Republican Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was criticized by civil rights groups earlier this month when he said he would be willing to send inmates to help build the wall that Trump had pledged as one of his campaign promises.
Now, Hodgson and another Republican sheriff, Joseph McDonald Jr. of Plymouth County, say they are planning to sign agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to join a program that trains local law enforcement agencies to interview incoming inmates and access ICE databases so they can flag anyone to ICE who may be in the country illegally.
The program has been a part of immigration law since 1996, and has been modified over the years to reflect ICE’s enforcement priorities. Currently, ICE has agreements with 34 agencies in 16 states, mostly at local jails.
Hodgson said the training could help prevent undocumented immigrants from being released before ICE agents are able to check their status.
“The advantage to this program is that some people might bail themselves out before we can identify them,” Hodgson said.
“ICE has limited manpower. By having this immediate access, we want to make sure we have every tool in our toolbox to identify anybody who is a threat from being released.”
The plans by Hodgson and McDonald come at a time when many immigrants are fearful of being deporting under the Trump administration.
Isabel Lopez, lead organizer of the Brockton Interfaith Community in Plymouth County, said immigrant advocates are expected to protest the move Wednesday at a news conference planned by McDonald and Hodgson to announce their agreements with ICE.
“Sheriff McDonald needs to focus more on what his office is supposed to be doing, which is providing better re-entry programs for people leaving the county jail,” Lopez said.
McDonald said he sees the program as a way to help immigration officials identify people who are priorities for deportation.
“It will allow those individuals working inside the correction facility when they encounter someone who identifies themselves as foreign born, they can check that against the (ICE) database and see if this person is a priority for ICE for deportation proceedings,” McDonald said.
Under the ICE program, sheriff’s department staff members go through four weeks of training to be certified as ICE officers in jails.
“This is not carte blanche to detain individuals for the duration of their immigration cases,” said Sarah Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for ICE.
“This allows local jails to detain someone if they meet immigration enforcement priorities until ICE can come and collect this individual.”