Sheriffs’ participation in FAIR’s Border Tour deviate from responsibilities

Imagine 2050 Staff • Jul 21, 2014

Local sheriffs should be impartial peacemakers, not anti-immigrant spokespersons

In its 2012 annual report, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) noted that it was expanding its outreach efforts to law enforcement officials:

“Our commitment to educating the American public and promoting citizen awareness and involvement across the country is a continuing focus. This year, we expanded our outreach to law enforcement — specifically county sheriffs — in order to educate them about illegal immigration and its impact on the communities they serve.”

FAIR’s efforts that year included organizing a controversial “National Sheriffs Border School and Tour” in El Paso, Texas. In El Paso, many sheriffs from across the country were not only exposed to FAIR and its anti-immigrant agenda, but also likely returned to their jurisdictions inspired to advocate for the harsh enforcement policies FAIR so vehemently supports. FAIR’s latest law enforcement outreach effort occurred last week when it organized a four-day “fact-finding mission” for seven sheriffs from five states to observe Border Patrol facilities processing apprehended children fleeing violence from Central America.

While FAIR’s border trip seems to be an obvious attempt to advance its agenda during a humanitarian crisis, it also comes during a year in which many municipalities and sheriffs across the country are rebuking the burden of federal immigration responsibilities. From areas spanning from Oregon to Philadelphia, local officials are choosing to no longer honor immigration authorities’ requests for ICE detainer holds. In addition to straining sheriff department staffs and resources, in some cases honoring such requests have been found by federal courts to violate detainees’ constitutional rights.

Unsurprisingly, most of the sheriffs participating in FAIR’s border trip last week subscribe to the anti-immigrant movement’s view that all levels of law enforcement should fervently enforce federal immigration statutes. By travelling to the border with FAIR, these sheriffs continue to align themselves with – and validate the motivations of – a movement that has had no qualms exploiting the present crisis of children fleeing violence for political gain.

North Carolina’s Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page was one of the seven sheriffs touring the border last week. His involvement was expected given his history with the anti-immigrant movement. Page travelled to El Paso with FAIR in 2012 and has been a regular attendee of FAIR’s annual media event in Washington DC, “Hold Their Feet to the Fire.” During the 2013 installment, he participated in a press conference organized the stridently anti-immigrant Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and David Vitter (R-LA). Shortly after that conference, Page signed a letter to members of Congress along with other sheriffs and law enforcement officials in opposition to immigration reform. That letter was facilitated by National ICE Council President Chris Crane, who himself has worked closely with Kris Kobach and NumbersUSA.

Sheriff Tom Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts similarly signed Crane’s anti-reform letter and has attended FAIR events. Hodgson has made additional trips to the nation’s capital to oppose immigration reforms. During an October 2013 press conference – again organized by Sen. Sessions – Hodgson disparaged undocumented immigrants for supposedly “creating public health hazards” and “public safety concerns.”

Frederick County, Maryland Sheriff Chuck Jenkins was also a predictable participant given that his ties to FAIR go back to at least 2009 when he spoke at FAIR’s advisory board meeting. Jenkins certainly advocates implementing harsh immigration enforcement measures. Under his watch, Frederick Country is the only county in Maryland that maintains a 287(g) arrangement with ICE. Issues with Jenkins’ department are not solely limited to immigration matters. In 2010, Jenkins said an “Arizona type law” or statewide 287(g) participation would be “ideal for Maryland.”

While these sheriffs and others toured the southern border with FAIR last week, another FAIR-affiliated Sheriff actions in Oracle, Arizona was denounced by editors of The Arizona Republic as “incomprehensibly irresponsible.”

Last Tuesday, Pinal County (AZ) Sheriff Paul Babeu (pictured above, from 2011) might have set a new low in recklessly spinning anti-immigrant sentiment into political opportunity. After passing on information regarding the arrivals of children fleeing violence to nativist protestors who then mistakingly harassed a bus of YMCA campers, only then did Babeu assert his presence on site as a “peacemaker.” Republic editors likened Babeu to a “pyromaniac who torches his own house, then throws himself on the mercy of the court as a homeless waif.”

Whether they are leaving their jurisdictions to tour the border with anti-immigrant organizations or creating dangerous standoffs in their own backyards, sheriffs should not entertain the anti-immigrant movement’s dangerous nativist agenda. As Babeu’s critics wrote earlier this week, it is “a higher order of cruelty — and carelessness — for a peace officer to use his elected office to play on anger and fear.”

Image source: Gage Skidmore

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