Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson (C-SPAN)

A civil rights group has sued a controversial Massachusetts sheriff who signed up his department to join federal immigration enforcement efforts.

 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice announced Thursday that they have filed a lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in order to obtain public records related to the sheriff’s participation with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program.

 

Hodgson told Metro that the department did miss the deadline by which to respond to the public records request.

 

"We certainly apologize for that," he said. "We fell short on that standard, and I take full responsibility."

 

The program his department is involved in interweaves local law enforcement into the federal immigration enforcement effort, a partnership that groups like the ACLU have repeatedly said is harmful to local policing efforts because it breaks down community trust and hinders residents who may fear deportation from reporting crimes or cooperating with investigations.

The lawyers group says critics also oppose a local-federal partnership for immigration enforcement because it is a “poor use” of taxpayer funds and can lead to racial profiling.

Hodgson said that not participating in the program would actually cost taxpayers more money. Because they are detaining people, Hodgson said, the practice prevents those people from committing additional crimes upon their release, which prevents additional money going to investigation and court procedures.

Hodsgon said that the department built an immigration detention facility about eight years ago, and it has since generated a net profit of about $38 million for the state because the federal government pays them per detainee that is housed in that facility. That number could not be immediately verified.

After Hodgson announced that his office would voluntarily join the ICE program in January, the Lawyers’ Committee filed a formal request for public documents related to Hodgson’s participation, according to a statement.

“The records requested seek, among other things, to determine how much taxpayer money is being spent by Sheriff Hodgson on this program, who is being investigated and detained as a result, and where enforcement activities are occurring,” according to a release from the committee. “The Sheriff’s Office acknowledged receipt of the request, but has refused to turn over any documents.”

Sophia Hall, a staff attorney with the committee and one on the case, said in a statement that the public has a right to know how the sheriff is enforcing federal immigration law, how taxpayer money is being used and whether he is carrying out racial profiling.

“Sheriff Hodgson’s public statements about immigration enforcement highlight the need for civil rights advocates to monitor his activities closely,” she said.

Hodgson previously offered to have Bristol County inmates help build President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and also called for leaders of sanctuary cities to be arrested.

“At best, sanctuary cities are a direct violation of trust between legal residents and the elected officials who took an oath to protect them at all costs. At the worst, it's careless, illegal and extremely dangerous,” Hodgson said in March. “If these sanctuary cities are going to harbor and conceal criminal illegal aliens from ICE ... federal arrest warrants should be issued for their elected officials."

Regarding the lawsuit, Hodgson said that his legal team worked on Thursday to gather the public records that the Lawyers' Committee requested and that he takes full responsibility for the delayed response. 

"The information we can provide based on their request will be sent today via mail," he said.