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Adrian Walker

Bristol County’s sheriff has no place in the US-Mexico border debate

Sheriff Thomas Hodgson at a Bristol County facility in 2009. Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Maybe Thomas Hodgson needs a map. The longtime Bristol County sheriff seems to think his jurisdiction has some relationship to Mexico.

Hodgson used the occasion of his swearing-in Wednesday to float a truly bizarre idea. He volunteered Bristol County inmates to help build the infamous wall promised by President-elect Donald Trump on the US-Mexico border that is supposedly going to thwart illegal immigration.

Never mind that Hodgson’s authority to send anyone to Texas is doubtful. Forget the fact that absolutely no one has asked for his help in carrying out this scheme. Disregard the fact that, in the view of some observers, his notion of an inmate work program borders on modern-day slavery.


Hodgson thinks it’s a great idea.

“I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall,” Hodgson said in his speech. “Aside from learning and perfecting construction skills, the symbolism of these inmates and building a wall to prevent crime in our communities around the country, and to preserve jobs and work opportunities for them and other Americans upon release, can be very powerful.”

Welcome to the new lunacy, naked racism presented as a beautiful opportunity.

Hodgson was appointed to office by Governor William F. Weld in 1997 and was just elected unopposed to his fourth six-year term. This is not his first strange idea. In 1999, he briefly resurrected chain gangs, the infamous work crews that flourished in the Jim Crow South before disappearing in the 1970s. He called them “tandem work crews.” For years, Hodgson has been an outspoken — though widely ignored — right-wing voice on immigration issues.

In a telephone interview, Hodgson said he and other sheriffs have long advocated cracking down on immigration, to no avail.


“I’ve been working on immigration reform since 1998,” he said. “I will tell you it was very clear to me back then and it is clear now that it is a political football. Those days are over.”

He said building the wall would put a stop to illegal immigrants sneaking into the country, victimizing citizens, and overtaxing services. I asked if he really believes immigrants are responsible for the level of mayhem he describes.

“This isn’t about Mexicans committing all the crimes — of course not,” he said. “But speaking with border volunteers and others, they’re seeing Pakistani literature people are bringing in. They’re using the southern border to get in. That should concern all of us.”

Lawyers and immigrant advocates immediately vowed to fight any attempt to carry out Hodgson’s proposal. Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the proposal was insensitive and unrealistic, noting that many immigrants are already worried about Trump’s agenda.

“Right when we are seeing how angry and sad people are, to have someone from Massachusetts — which is not even a border state — make such a statement is beyond ridiculous,” Millona said.

Hodgson couldn’t really explain how his jobs program would work or what legal basis he would have to enact it. But he said he couldn’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with trucking inmates — many of whom are awaiting trial and haven’t been convicted of anything — to Texas for a construction project that many consider, at best, implausible.


In a sense, what offended me most about Hodgson’s idea was his rosy description of its alleged virtues. I’d have more respect for him if he owned his xenophobia. Instead, he portrays forced labor as the chance of a lifetime and closing America’s borders as a powerful way to teach construction skills. Either he’s an idiot, or he thinks we are.

The buses carrying inmates from Bristol County to their construction opportunity on the Mexican border probably won’t be rolling anytime soon. But that doesn’t make Hodgson’s attempt to promote himself by trashing immigrants any less nauseating.

Walker can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com.