Sheriffs and Anti-Immigrant Hate Groups Teaming Up Nationwide

Law enforcement leaders get national platforms to spout nativist claptrap, while their departments often get perks for collaborating.

Sheriffs such Milwaukee’s David Clarke have become the anti-immigrant movement’s most visible law enforcement allies. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A new report reveals how anti-immigrant hate groups have recruited sheriffs and the National Sheriffs’ Association to implement nativist policies–and they’re the same groups on which President Trump has relied for the formulation of his immigration agenda.

“Crossing the Line: U.S. Sheriffs Colluding with the Anti-Immigrant Movement,” released July 25 by the Center for New Community, details how leading anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA, along with hate groups the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), have strategically cultivated relationships with sheriffs to implement policies that are harmful to undocumented communities.

“Creating coalitions with police and sheriff’s [sic] departments all across the country to confront the issues posed by mass immigration has been a key FAIR goal for many years,” FAIR wrote in a 2005 newsletter, according to the report. In 2011, that goal came to fruition when the hate group met with sheriffs across the country, debuting a promotional video about these efforts during a 2011 St. Louis conference organized by the National Sheriffs’ Association.

FAIR wrote about these efforts further in a 2011 annual report. “We identified sheriffs who expressed concerns about illegal immigration,” the report reads. FAIR staff “met with these sheriffs and their deputies, supplied them with a steady stream of information, established regular conference calls so they could share information and experiences, and invited them to come to Washington to meet with FAIR’s senior staff.” These 2011 outreach efforts culminated with a meeting in Massachusetts between FAIR staff and sheriffs from across the country.

In the years since, sheriffs such as Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts; North Carolina’s Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page; Oregon’s Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack; Milwaukee’s Sheriff David Clarke, and Arizona’s former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio have become the anti-immigrant movement’s most visible law enforcement allies. Some even appeared in a series of videos in collaboration with FAIR, representing the National Sheriffs’ Association and thanking Trump for his anti-immigrant executive orders. These sheriffs have also become vocal supporters of anti-immigrant policies.

This includes policies such as the 287(g) program, a federal immigration enforcement program that works as an agreement between a local law enforcement agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The program essentially deputizes officers to act as immigration officials. The 287(g) program routinely results in racial profiling and puts undocumented immigrants at real risk of deportation for any interaction with a police officer, including for having a broken taillight.

When law enforcement agencies work closely with ICE, it makes the larger community less safe. Undocumented communities, fearing deportation, avoid interacting with police officers, even when it comes to reporting crimes they’ve experienced or witnessed.

Jurisdictions financially benefit from the targeting of undocumented immigrants through programs like 287(g). In some 287(g) jurisdictions, law enforcement officials “have filled their department’s coffers using the program in tandem with another federal program that pays police departments to detain immigrants in local facilities,” creating “a profit incentive for local law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue unauthorized immigrants in their communities,” according to the report.

The report’s author notes that gatherings organized by FAIR have “little educational merit” and no accreditation or “meaningful training value” and while FAIR typically provides financial assistance for some sheriffs seeking to attend these events, others use taxpayer funds.

There is real incentive for sheriffs to develop relationships with anti-immigrant hate groups—primarily in that it raises their national profile. Over the years, FAIR and CIS in particular have strategically positioned themselves in public discourse. Their racist, anti-immigrant propaganda has been normalized and treated as a credible source by mainstream media organizations—including the now widely-held belief that so-called sanctuary cities “threaten public safety.”

Though that claim is patently false, these groups’ employees have also made it into the U.S. Capitol and the White House. “Researchers” with anti-immigrant hate groups FAIR and CIS have presented their cherry-picked, inaccurate findings at congressional hearings on immigration. Trump cited FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA prominently on his campaign website for his formal immigration policies.

Various members of anti-immigrant hate groups have attained high-ranking positions in Trump’s administration, including Julie Kirchner, who was initially named chief of staff of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal agency that oversees Border Patrol; in May, she transitioned into her role as Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman. Kirchner is the former executive director of FAIR, whose leaders have ties to eugenics and white supremacist organizations. The organization’s founder, John Tanton, is credited with creating the modern anti-immigrant movement.

When sheriffs are willing to co-sign racist propaganda and work with these anti-immigrant organizations pushing forward their nativist agendas, their individual stars rise. Milwaukee’s Sheriff Clarke, who spoke at the Republican National Convention (RNC), was considered by Trump for a high-ranking position within the Department of Homeland Security.

Maricopa’s re-election loser Arpaio, who has a long history of racial profiling and unlawfully detaining undocumented immigrants and who was recently convicted of criminal contempt, also spoke at the RNC and was once being considered for a role within DHS. (Groups like FAIR have a long history of pushing anti-immigrant polices in Arizona.)

The anti-immigrant hate groups featured in the Center for New Community’s report have also developed strong, working relationships with the unions representing federal immigration agencies like ICE and Border Patrol. Both endorsed Trump and released a joint press release reporting that morale among agents and officers “has increased exponentially since the signing of [Trump’s anti-immigrant executive] orders.” The Border Patrol’s union regularly praises Trump in its weekly podcast, which is recorded at several Breitbart News Studios, which is owned by the white nationalist site Breitbart.

According to the report, the close relationships being developed between law enforcement and nativist groups also uplift the “dangerous notion” that local police should enforce federal immigration laws. The Trump administration is fighting to make this notion a reality, as evidenced by its multiple attacks on so-called sanctuary cities.

In order to carry out Trump’s promised mass deportations, his administration has repeatedly attempted to force local jurisdictions to not just comply with ICE detainer requests, but also to have officers act as immigration agents—a tactic that’s working.

States that have historically embraced anti-immigrant policies are emboldened under Trump, including Texas, whose SB 4 will go into effect this September and allow for racial profiling. Eighteen counties in Texas recently entered into 287(g) agreements with ICE. Texas now accounts for “almost one-third of the 60 pacts nationwide in a once-dormant program,” the Dallas Morning News reported.

The Center for New Community reports that collaboration between the anti-immigrant movement and sheriffs shows no sign of ending anytime soon under Trump. But it noted that since most sheriffs are democratically elected, these sheriffs are not meeting their obligations as accountable public officials.

“Sheriffs have an obligation to ensure that all residents in their jurisdictions are treated fairly,” the report reads. “Partnering with nativist groups and advocating for a shared agenda of disdain and destruction aimed at immigrant communities” is in direct contradiction to their obligations, and betrays “equal treatment under the law.”