Arrests, anger dominate sheriff's office immigration meeting

Apr 10, 2019

Two protesters were arrested and people made their voices heard over the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office’s work with federal immigration officials at a packed public meeting on April 10.

The meeting, held by the sheriff’s office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was supposed to be centered around the department’s participation in the 287(g) program. It is a voluntary agreement between ICE and sheriff’s departments, which trains and authorizes local law enforcement to investigate immigration-related matters.

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office began the program in January 2017. It has operated an ICE detention facility in Dartmouth since 2007, which currently houses about 200 detainees.  

Under the 287(g) program, every person in Bristol County arrested who enters the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth or the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford are asked if they were born in a foreign country. Those that are can be questioned by specially-trained sheriff’s officers to determine their immigration status. A total of six officers received ICE training. That information is then reported to the ICE field office, and an ICE official can make a determination to take further action.

In Bristol County, sheriff’s officers have had 287(g) encounters with 801 inmates. Out of them, further action was taken against 74 inmates. Twelve were eventually removed from the United States. The program is limited to within the walls of Bristol County jails.

Those attending the meeting were able to ask questions directly to a panel including sheriff’s office and federal ICE officials. However, even as the meeting began, several protesters made their position clear. Two people got up, began shouting, and unfurled a banner reading “Bristol County, end your agreement with ICE.”

The protesters — identified by department spokesperson Jonathan Darling as Max Grear and Arely Diaz — were immediately met by sheriff’s officers, removed from the meeting, and arrested on charges of trespassing, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.

Although Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said ICE gives the sheriff’s department more money than it costs to house inmates in immigration detention, several people who spoke at the meeting insisted the sheriff’s office should spend its money to improve conditions in the jail instead.

Activists and former inmates have accused the sheriff of failing to provide adequate nutrition and medical care - allegations Hodgson denies.

One person asked why the department won’t bring medication-assisted treatment programs for opioid addiction to the jail.

Hodgson responded by stating are issues with the model, because, for example, patients would need to be monitored to ensure they are taking their medication and not pretending to to sell them to other prisoners.

Others detailed instances in which they said inmates were being mistreated. One speaker detailed a case in which she said a friend’s son had been denied medical treatment for five days before dying of a stroke.

Hodgson said he was not familiar with the case and could not comment specifically on it, but said it sounded unusual that an inmate would be denied medical care after asking for it.

Although most of the people who spoke made it clear they do not believe sheriff’s officers should be conducting immigration investigations, with several pointing to the program as a cause of mistrust and fear among immigrant populations, Sheriff Hodgson said he “will not apologize” for his work with ICE.

“We have an obligation, I have an obligation to work with every agency I can to make sure that the citizens, their families are protected, and I am not going to apologize for that,” Hodgson said.