Anti-immigrant groups are hyping the proposal of one Massachusetts sheriff to send inmates to build President-elect Donald Trump’s promised wall along the Mexican border in what the ACLU said would amount to “modern-day slave labor.”
Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, who in 2014 organized a D.C. protest of President Obama’s planned executive actions on immigration, said in a swearing-in speech last week that he would offer county inmates to help build Trump’s wall, saying, “I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall.” MassLive points out that in the same speech, Hodgson proposed reviving his former illegal practice of charging inmates $5 a day to be incarcerated—thus making them pay for the privilege of building Trump’s wall.
The Massachusetts ACLU’s Laura Rotolo told Esquire, “The idea of sending prisoners, who are in general disadvantaged people in our society, people of color, and many times immigrants, to build a wall to keep out other people of color is perverse.” In an interview with the Boston Globe, she called it “modern-day slave labor.”
However, some prominent anti-immigrant groups seem to think it may be a good idea. In a podcast last week, Dan Stein, the head of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, asked listeners to weigh in on social media about whether they “agree or don’t agree” with Hodgson’s idea, but made fairly clear in an interview with “FAIR’s law enforcement outreach expert” Bob Najmulski where his group stood.
Calling Hodgson’s idea “really some innovative thinking,” Stein asked Najmulski if inmates would “learn some important skills while they were building the wall.”
“Absolutely, they’re going to learn construction skills and they’re going to learn basic life skills—responsibility, and in this particular case, a sense of patriotism,” Najmulski answered.
Stein added that the plan “would sure cut down on labor costs.”
Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies was similarly impressed, telling the Washington Examiner that the plan would put any immigrant prisoners “that much closer for deportation”:
Immigration experts applauded his plan. “If any of the inmates working on the wall are criminal aliens from south of the border, they’ll be that much closer for deportation,” said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Not only that, they can use their new skills to support themselves in their home country,” she added.
Vaughan also praised the proposal to The Washington Times:
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said she hopes the Trump administration adopts Sheriff Hodgson’s idea. She said it made sense for jail inmates to be put to work on this project.
“Let’s not forget that some of the people most harmed by illegal immigration are people who have not had the chance to acquire education or skills, who sometimes turn to crime as a result, so if this project helps address their life challenges simultaneously from a policy angle and a personal angle, that’s really worth it,” she said.
She added: “And if illegal immigration is successfully slowed and enforcement increased in the interior, then construction is one of the industries where there should be some better job opportunities for Americans and legal immigrants.”
Ms. Vaughan said the administration would have to consider security issues, as with any inmate work program. She also said the border has plenty of surveillance tools aimed at stopping illegal migration, and those could help prevent absconding inmates.
“Using inmate labor is not quite the same thing as having Mexico pay for the wall, but it’s equally beneficial for taxpayers; plus, the inmates are available right now,” she said.