Lawyers Accuse Divisive MA Sheriff of Stonewalling

BOSTON (CN) – A conservative Massachusetts sheriff who has pledged to supply federal deportation efforts with state resources faces a court complaint after ignoring a public-records request.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice brought the complaint against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson on May 4 in Suffolk Superior Court.

An outspoken Republican, Hodgson opposes efforts to make the commonwealth a so-called sanctuary state and drew alarm this year for offering to have Bristol County inmates help build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border promised by President Donald Trump.

Hodgson received a public-records request from the Lawyers’ Committee in January after he and Plymouth Sheriff Joe McDonald committed their offices’ resources to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called Section 287(g).

The Lawyers’ Committee notes that participation in the program — which Trump revived after an indefinite 2012 suspension by the Obama administration — “is voluntary and highly controversial.”

“Critics of the 287(g) program contend that the program is not a wise use of local taxpayer funds, and that local law enforcement involvement in federal immigration enforcement renders communities less safe,” the complaint states.

The Lawyers’ Committee highlighted Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, as the poster child for sheriffs whose overzealous participation in the 287(g) program has spurred racial profiling and civil-rights abuses.

Painting the program as a threat to public safety, the complaint quotes critics as saying it “creates mistrust of law enforcement in immigrant communities and makes people less likely to report crimes or step forward as witnesses.”

State law gave Hodgson 10 days to produce documents responsive to the request by the Lawyers’ Committee. “Instead, in total disregard of Public Records Law, defendants have ignored the Lawyers’ Committee’s request for over three months,” the complaint states.

Still waiting on a response to its Feb. 27 letter renewing the January request, the committee wants a judge to intervene.

“Sheriff Hodgson appears to think he is above the law,” Sophia Hall, staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a statement. “But as President Trump has learned, that is why we have courts. The public has a right to know how this sheriff is attempting to enforce federal immigration law, how scarce taxpayer dollars are being squandered, and whether he is engaging in racial profiling of immigrant and minority communities.”

Among other records, the Lawyers’ Committee seeks details on anyone who has been investigated, detained or otherwise subjected to law enforcement activity in Bristol because of the county’s collaboration with ICE.

The group also whats to know how much money participation in Section 287(g) is costing the county, whether through staff training, equipment use or other expenditures.

If Hodgson has any records on immigration raids in schools, businesses or community centers since 2015, the group wants those as well.

ICE’s website says the agency has agreements with 41 law-enforcement agencies throughout the country, all cooperating under the jail-enforcement model of 287(g).

The jail-enforcement model involves checking the immigration status of people who are arrested and possibly detaining undocumented immigrants until ICE agents can come pick them up. Participants in the 287(g) program can also use the task force model, which involves allowing law enforcement to question individuals they believe might be undocumented and arrest them.

held a joint press conference to announce that they were signing onto the program.

A spokesperson from the sheriff’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit except to say that they comply with the records request.

The Lawyers’ Committee is represented by David Kluft and Chang Yu of Foley Hoag.

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