Campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform is hardly a vogue far-Right strategy limited to those in the Beltway.
Across the country, some local sheriffs – apparently as concerned with provoking fear among their constituents as they are with actually protecting them – have built their careers on it. County Sheriffs Paul Babeu, Sam Page, and Chuck Jenkins, for example, have solidified their reputations as anti-immigrant hardliners far beyond the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions.
And they did so by aligning themselves closely with the flagship group of the organized anti-immigrant movement, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
“That piece comes from, I think it’s actually, let me just think for a second. Oh boy. I’ll find it for you…someone emailed it to me.” – Sheriff Hodgson’s response to Imagine 2050 when asked to substantiate his claim that “25 people in the U.S. are killed each day by illegal immigrants.”
With his recent announcement to hold a rally of sheriffs in Washington, D.C., on December 10th, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, has moved in earnest to join the ranks of those aforementioned – just as he did at this summer at FAIR’s “National Sheriffs Boarder School and Tour.” Together, it seems, they aspire to become the next Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Acting as a de facto PR consultant, Ryan Lovelace of the über-Conservative and Beltway-centric National Review wrote a piece providing Hodgson plenty of space to speak about his rally. As he reports, Hodgson has sent a letter addressed to local sheriffs nationwide, imploring them to attend his rally. Lovelace notes it will take place, “two days before the existing government-funding bill expires, to meet with congressmen and encourage them to take action to secure the border.”
Lovelace lays out that Hodgson’s rally and meetings are actually about attacking the then-potential announcement of lawful executive action on immigration reform by the Obama Administration (announced Nov. 20), a purpose the sheriff doesn’t explicitly point to in his letter.
That in mind, Hodgson’s call-to-action appears on official department letterhead, which is rather important since it contains factual inaccuracies that were exposed by many among the media and in civil rights circles nearly a decade ago.
25 dead everyday? ‘I’ll have to find it for you.’
Hodgson’s initial pitch relies on provoking anxieties through connotations residing within a favorite top-line of anti-immigrant communicators: “Every state is a border state.” Such a message is crucial to the movement’s broader goals to provoke a widespread sense of “border insecurity” in the minds of everyday Americans.
What such a top-line purposefully disregards, though, is the blowback from our federal government’s eternally paradoxical “War on Drugs” and the levels of desire within too many working across all levels of government who are hell-bent on increasing already terrifying levels of mass incarceration and detention. Together, such wrong-headed and generally bigoted practices further provoke and perpetuate the cycles of violence and criminality they purport to be solving.
Such broader context destroys the anti-immigrant movement’s goal of framing up “border insecurity,” though, as there is ample data disproving their social and cultural myopia.
For example, for them there is the inconvenient fact that immigrants, like citizens, are – deep breath – normal people. That, and of course immigrants have been proven to commit crimes at a far-lower rate in proportion to the broader population of U.S. citizens. There is agreement on this point across the political spectrum, as well. One study conducted by the American Immigration Council found the following:
“The problem of crime in the United States is not caused or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families.”
The main source disputing that reality is the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a FAIR sister group that serves as the data-mill for broader anti-immigrant movement and their congressional allies in DC. Pun intended, CIS was more recently dubbed “the False-Fact Think Tank” by The Daily Beast, such is its reputation for producing reports that evidence only predetermined talking points or message frames manufactured by the anti-immigrant movement itself.
Sadly, such dubious data also underpins Sheriff Hodgson’s nationwide call for sheriffs to join him.
In his letter, Hodgson claims that his rally is pivotal “given the fact that 25 people in the United States are killed each day by illegal immigrants.”
I spoke to Sheriff Hodgson by phone the morning of Nov. 13. I asked him if he would disclose the source of that particular statistic. He struggled to answer, “That piece comes from, I think it’s actually, let me just think for a second. Oh boy. I’ll find it for you.”
Cordially, he promised to me email the source when he turned it up, mentioning he believed, “someone emailed it to me.” We’ll update the piece when he does.
Fortunately, there is much on public record regarding that particular statistic.
Tom Boggioni’s Nov. 10 piece published for Raw Story is headlined: “Mass. lawman relies on urban legends to rally sheriffs to DC for anti-immigration protest.” In it, Boggioni does well to point out that Hodgson’s claim originates with Rep. Steve King. Further eroding its relevance to public debate, the claim was made in 2006. Boggioni writes,
“Pressed to explain how he arrived at his numbers, King said he ‘extrapolated’ the numbers from a study provided by the General Accounting Office. According to the GAO study, only 28 percent of all federal prisoners are either legal immigrants or undocumented immigrants, without distinguishing between the two categories. The study also stated that about 50% of those immigrants were charged with being in the country illegally, with 12 percent … in custody for murder, rape, robbery or other violent crimes.”
In a piece published back in April 2014 on Roll Call’s website, Matt Fuller circles back to King’s 2006 arithmetic, crucially pointing out, “The federal government has no way of keeping track or calculating that data with any degree of accuracy, so the numbers are conjecture.”
Such conjecture apparently angers the Texas-based anti-immigrant group The Remembrance Project (TRP). In a recent email to supporters, the group advocated that fees for applications for a specific immigration-related status be used, in part, for “Collecting data to further develop a nationwide data base of Americans who have been killed by illegal aliens.” While doing this, one would also have to collect data about those who’ve committed such crimes.
Ergo, in another shining moment for government transparency under the Obama Administration, no such data is publicly available.
Earlier this month, TRP’s leader emailed supporters, asking them to call their local sheriff and urge him or her to attend Hodgson’s December 10th rally. As a highly coordinated movement, it isn’t typical that one group would accidentally undermine the claims of its fellow spokespersons.
An anti-immigrant coalition of the willing
Nevertheless, the far-Right Groundswell strategy coalition and its far-right media outlets like Breitbart and others will surely sound the bell for Hodgson’s rally, and Sens. Jeff Sessions and David Vitter have already agreed to appear.
I asked Hodgson if FAIR, CIS, or their other sister group, NumbersUSA, had helped coordinate their appearances, but he moved past the pith of my question.
Instead, Hodgson told me that he’s worked for quite some time with Sen. Sessions, and that the two had participated in a press conference together on The Hill “one or two years ago.” Indeed they did, as the two gathered with other anti-immigrant sheriffs and lawmakers to oppose the immigration reform debate that was just beginning in the Senate. That debate led to broad bipartisan support, and hope for a future horizon of relief for immigrants and their families. Of Hodgson’s comments that day, Ted Hesson of ABC News wrote that his “rhetoric felt like a throwback to another era of conservative ideology on immigration.”
Himself a throwback, Sessions is perhaps the anti-immigrant movement’s most strident ally in the Senate. Holding a close working relationship with CIS and other groups, the movement’s communicators return the favor by upholding him as a champion of American workers. Sessions’ voting record inconveniently proves the opposite. Sessions willfully and repeatedly votes against the American worker. For his part, Vitter is a similar ally, one happy to bask in hollow awards bestowed upon him by some of the most conspiracy-minded within the broader nativist movement, which encompasses FAIR, CIS, and others with missions more specifically anti-immigrant.
That in mind, proven extremists like former-sheriff Richard Mack, who leads the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Associations (CSPOA), is encouraging his supporters to attend. Mack is even collecting donations thru mail and CSPOA’s website “to help us pay for the expenses of many sheriffs who want to go, but can’t afford to.”
Translation: Most sheriffs won’t be able to officially apply for taxpayer-supplied funds to attend this event, presumably alongside Mack.
Some might remember Mack for his visible and vocal presence this past year at the ranch of Cliven Bundy, where an armed stand-off with federal authorities a la Waco, Texas openly boiled after anti-government extremists with weapons-in-hand flocked there. Bundy was embroiled in a land dispute with federal authorities over his cattle grazing illegally on public land since 1993. From there, Mack delivered public statements in support of Bundy, a pro-slavery racist.
Mack went as far as to say that he and others were ready to use their wives and daughters as human shields if shooting were to erupt.
If “every state is a border state” then…
In the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy and the oppressive and unconstitutional militarized police response that has followed, one might think that many sheriffs across the country would want to put serious distance between themselves and efforts that draw them closer to controversy and further away from tactics of community policing (here’s one example).
The police of Ferguson more closely resembled Special Forces troops carrying out objectives within the broader mission of an occupying force (John Oliver’s take). Through them, we see how the racialization of national security comes home to roost—its weapons focused on “others” who just happen to be American citizens. And from that, as much as the anti-immigrant movement might want it to, we remember that the United States does not exist in a well-insulated bubble.
Our foreign policy bursts it. Our “War on Drugs” bursts it. Ask anyone – regardless of citizenship – who has lost a loved one to drug related violence. Ask the loved ones of young African-American males, for that matter, how they believe the “War on Drugs” has impacted how their communities are policed and perceived – nationwide between 2010-2012, “1,217 deadly police shootings” of black males “age 15 to 19” occurred.
If “every state is a border state” that is only because the United States as a country shares a border with every country across the world we impact through ill-conceived foreign policy glimpsed solely through the lenses of drones— through excessive displays of force that maim and kill, that serve to destabilize the security and economies of nations, including our own.
In this way, the national security complex that propels so much of that policy imperils the very citizenry it supposedly protects and serves. Sheriff Hodgson might be better served taking some advice from the sheriff of what is basically a “border town” than from FAIR, as he did this past summer when he visited the border along with that group’s leaders.
‘The trust of our communities’
Tuscon, Arizona is a city mired in the foggy marrow of the immigration debate that Hodgson is so confidently strides through.
Roberto Villaseñor is a native of Tuscon. He has also served as its police chief since 2009. Titled, “Efficient policing must engage the community,” Villaseñor’s recent op-ed published on The Hill’s website stands in stark opposition to Hodgson’s vision of policing, which more resembles the work of a professional lobbyist as opposed to law enforcement officer.
“The reality of border communities requires that all law enforcement agencies, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), uphold accountability and transparency as the best tools to gain and maintain the trust of our residents,” writes Tuscon Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor.
“The reality of border communities requires that all law enforcement agencies, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), uphold accountability and transparency as the best tools to gain and maintain the trust of our residents,” Villaseñor writes. “Upholding the laws of the land is our mission; gaining and maintaining the trust of our communities must also be our joint responsibility.”
I asked Hodgson what measure he would enact first if tomorrow he could directly address the challenges presented by our southern border. Hodgson replied, “Bring in the Marines.”
With his rally and press conference on Decemeber 10th, Sheriff Hodgson will violate such trust, just as a militarization of our southern border ultimately would with those residing in communities on both sides. This is clear, and in this way he satisfies the mission of the anti-immigrant movement and nothing else with his travels across state borders on his way to Washington, D.C.
Aaron P. Flanagan is the Director of Research at the Center for New Community.