- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Massachusetts sheriff wants to offer his jail inmates a deal: Do community service by volunteering to go build President-elect Donald Trump’s border wall.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson detailed the offer as he was sworn in to a fourth term in office on Wednesday. He hopes Mr. Trump will take him up on the plan, which he said would pay dividends for the country and the inmates.

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

It was a bold statement at a time when many other local officials across the country are moving the other direction, promising to try to thwart Mr. Trump’s immigration plans.

Mayors and city councils have said they will fight to keep their sanctuary status by refusing to cooperate with deportation agents, even if it means losing federal funds that help them staff their jails and police forces.

The council in Boulder, Colorado, which has refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, voted Tuesday to formally declare itself a sanctuary city. East Montpelier, Vermont, and Iowa City, Iowa, began debates this week about whether to become sanctuaries.

Nearly 280 cities qualified as sanctuaries in fiscal year 2016 by refusing to comply with a detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But Sheriff Hodgson’s offer of help on the wall suggests that other municipalities are eager to work with an administration that has promised to step up enforcement of immigration laws.

One program that is likely to get renewed attention under Mr. Trump is known as 287(g), which enlists local police and jails to help apprehend and process illegal immigrants.

President Obama severely curtailed the program, canceling task forces that helped train officers in the field who might encounter illegal immigrants. The administration said those programs weren’t effective and could lead to profiling.

Instead, the administration restricted the 287(g) program to scouring jails for illegal immigrants with serious criminal records.

Sheriff Hodgson said the program is a valuable tool for law enforcement agencies that want to cooperate.

Mr. Trump, in a major campaign speech on immigration, praised the 287(g) program and another federal jail-combing immigration enforcement known as Secure Communities, and vowed to “revitalize” them.

But it was the border wall that garnered the most attention during the campaign, and the Trump team insists the wall will be built.

“We’re going to keep our promises to end illegal immigration, build a wall,” Vice President-elect Mike Pence said after meeting with congressional Republicans on Wednesday.

The Reuters news agency reported this week that the Trump transition team had asked the Homeland Security Department to detail what assets it had available for wall and barrier construction at the border.

During the last major border-barrier building spree, under President George W. Bush, the National Guard was called to assist.

Sheriff Hodgson said his idea is to build a network of jails committed to having inmates perform community service. The sheriff said the inmates could be deployed to help rebuild communities after natural disasters, but would also be the labor pool for major infrastructure projects.

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.

Mr. Trump has vowed to force Mexico to pay for the wall — a promise the Mexican government says it will foil.

Among the ideas Mr. Trump has floated to soak the money from Mexicans is to cut off most of the nearly $25 billion in remittances Mexicans wire back home each year from their jobs in the U.S. Mr. Trump also said during the presidential campaign that he might cancel visas issued to Mexicans as a leverage point, or impose a fee increase and use the revenue to fund construction.

Ms. Vaughan said Sheriff Hodgson’s idea is another option.

“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.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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