DARTMOUTH — If Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson convinces President-elect Donald Trump to use inmates to build the a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, he will first have to get past the ACLU, which promised Thursday to do whatever it might take to stop it.
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, called the offer, announced at the sheriff’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday night in Fall River, “perverse, inhumane and likely unconstitutional.”
“Not only is Sheriff Hodgson willing to get involved with Trump’s racially discriminatory plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, he is proposing to use modern-day slave labor to do it,” she said in a statement.
“The men and women incarcerated at the Bristol County House of Corrections are mostly poor people and people of color. The idea of sending them to build a wall to keep out other people of color who are fleeing violence or devastating poverty is abhorrent,” she said.
If the sheriff follows through on his “shameful plan,” the ACLU of Massachusetts will use “every tool in our toolbox, including litigation, to stop him,” she said.
Gov. Charlie Baker swore in Hodgson to a fourth term as Bristol County sheriff on Wednesday night at Bristol Community College. And on Thursday, Baker’s press secretary gave the sheriff’s plan a cool but diplomatic reception. Baker has been trying to make amends with Trump, but he did not support the president-elect during the campaign and said he did not vote for him.
“The Baker-Polito administration is thankful for the valuable community service inmates in Bristol County have provided through work programs and would prefer they continue to offer those services closer to home. The administration has not been briefed on the sheriff’s proposal,” he said.
Hodgson at his inaugural address said that inmate participation would be voluntary and that he has spoken to other sheriffs about his plan. But John Birtwell, a spokesman for Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., was reluctant to place the Plymouth sheriff on Hodgson’s bandwagon.
“Charity begins at home, and that’s where I think Sheriff McDonald’s focus will be for the time being,” Birtwell said about the prospects of sending Plymouth work crews to Texas.
Fourth District Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III posted a humorous tweet on his account — “Not sure why pres-elect needs forced labor to build his wall. Isn’t Mexico paying?”
Trump and Kellyanne Conway, his spokeswoman, did not respond to tweets from The Standard-Times, asking for reaction to Hodgson’s offer.
Closer to home, former Dartmouth selectman and Republican activist Joseph L. Michaud praised the idea. “Why not? If done properly, I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
Inmates have “a stake in the issue,” which Michaud described as “unbridled illegal immigration.” He contended that undocumented immigrants drive down wages and drive up the costs of social programs. “I think the sheriff’s idea is a capital idea,” he said. “Whether anything will come from it, I don’t know.”
But with a GOP president and a Republican-controlled Congress and Gen. John F. Kelly, Trump’s choice as Homeland Security director, now is the time, Michaud said. “I credit Tom for thinking outside the box on a grand scale,” Michaud said. Kelly has a tough-talking reputation and was in charge of the military jail at Guantanamo.
Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Hodgson, said the sheriff’s office has not heard anything yet from the Trump transition team, but might in the next few days, given the extensive national publicity the sheriff’s proposal has received. Hodgson will appear Friday morning on Fox and Friends to discuss the plan.
Hodgson also will make a formal presentation and begin signing people up when he attends the annual meetings of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Major Counties Sheriffs’ Association in Washington, D.C., the first week of February. “He has tremendous support from the other sheriffs,” Darling said.
The logistics of transporting, housing in security facilities and feeding the inmates for a project of such size will be discussed over the next few months, Darling said.
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ACLU wants to stop sheriff from using inmates to build border wall,