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Sheriffs With FAIR's Border Tour Not Exactly Unbiased Participants

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Recently, seven sheriffs from five states participated in a tour of the border organized and paid for by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — an organization well-established as a hate group.  The sheriffs are now back at home and speaking about their experiences on the border, and naturally, what they say they saw is far from inspiring.

According to the Frederick News Post, here’s what Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland has been saying:

“We’re being invaded by drug cartels, drug smugglers, human traffickers, people who are being victimized. The flow of heroin and marijuana into Texas, through the borders, Arizona and New Mexico, is overwhelming,” Jenkins said.

These drugs make their way to Frederick County, as do gang members who have crossed the border unlawfully, he said. Jenkins highlighted the local impact to explain his participation in the visit, which has drawn criticism and attracted widespread media attention….

Brian Schmitt, an immigration lawyer and member of the Frederick Immigration Coalition [said],  “He (Jenkins) went down there to take a look at this humanitarian crisis, and for him to come back up here and say we’re being invaded by gangs and drug cartels and coyotes is ludicrous.”

Schmitt is right.  It’s a conflict of interest, to say the least, for a public official to accept a paid trip from a hate group that staunchly opposes immigration, then come back and talk about invasions.  And there’s plenty of evidence that Sheriff Jenkins and the other sponsored sheriffs weren’t exactly unbiased in the first place.  As the Center for New Community recently wrote at their Imagine 2050 blog, the participating sheriffs already had a record of working with FAIR, most notably at their annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” media event, and associating with FAIR-favorite legislators like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  More about the connections:

Most of the sheriffs participating in FAIR’s border trip last week subscribe to the anti-immigrant movement’s view that all levels of law enforcement should fervently enforce federal immigration statutes. By traveling to the border with FAIR, these sheriffs continue to align themselves with – and validate the motivations of – a movement that has had no qualms exploiting the present crisis of children fleeing violence for political gain.

North Carolina’s Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page was one of the seven sheriffs touring the border last week. His involvement was expected given his history with the anti-immigrant movement. Page travelled to El Paso with FAIR in 2012 and has been a regular attendee of FAIR’s annual media event in Washington DC, “Hold Their Feet to the Fire.” During the 2013 installment, he participated in a press conference organized the stridently anti-immigrant Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and David Vitter (R-LA). Shortly after that conference, Page signed a letter to members of Congress along with other sheriffs and law enforcement officials in opposition to immigration reform. That letter was facilitated by National ICE Council President Chris Crane, who himself has worked closely with Kris Kobach and NumbersUSA.

Sheriff Tom Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts similarly signed Crane’s anti-reform letter and has attended FAIR events. Hodgson has made additional trips to the nation’s capital to oppose immigration reforms. During an October 2013 press conference – again organized by Sen. Sessions – Hodgson disparaged undocumented immigrants for supposedly “creating public health hazards” and “public safety concerns.”

Frederick County, Maryland Sheriff Chuck Jenkins was also a predictable participant given that his ties to FAIR go back to at least 2009 when he spoke at FAIR’s advisory board meeting. Jenkins certainly advocates implementing harsh immigration enforcement measures. Under his watch, Frederick Country is the only county in Maryland that maintains a 287(g) arrangement with ICE. Issues with Jenkins’ department are not solely limited to immigration matters. In 2010, Jenkins said an “Arizona type law” or statewide 287(g) participation would be “ideal for Maryland.”

While these sheriffs and others toured the southern border with FAIR last week, another FAIR-affiliated Sheriff actions in Oracle, Arizona was denounced by editors of The Arizona Republic as “incomprehensibly irresponsible.”

Last Tuesday, Pinal County (AZ) Sheriff Paul Babeu (pictured above, from 2011) might have set a new low in recklessly spinning anti-immigrant sentiment into political opportunity. After passing on information regarding the arrivals of children fleeing violence to nativist protestors who then mistakingly harassed a bus of YMCA campers, only then did Babeu assert his presence on site as a “peacemaker.” Republic editors likened Babeu to a “pyromaniac who torches his own house, then throws himself on the mercy of the court as a homeless waif.”

Whether they are leaving their jurisdictions to tour the border with anti-immigrant organizations or creating dangerous standoffs in their own backyards, sheriffs should not entertain the anti-immigrant movement’s dangerous nativist agenda. As Babeu’s critics wrote earlier this week, it is “a higher order of cruelty — and carelessness — for a peace officer to use his elected office to play on anger and fear.”

As the sheriffs and their comments pick up coverage, we hope the media will take the example of the Frederick News Post and take note of who these public officials are really speaking for.