Two weeks before Donald Trump took the oath of office, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson walked into a Fall River, Massachusetts, auditorium filled with law enforcement officers from around the county. With bagpipes blaring, Hodgson was sworn in for his fourth term, following an uncontested election. It was a moment of triumph for the state’s longest-serving sheriff, and Hodgson’s speech signaled he might now have the political capital to reverse a courtroom defeat seven years earlier, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had denied his ability to levy extortionist fees on the prisoners in his custody. But it was his widely-reported plan to send detainees south to work on Trump’s promised border wall that made national news. Implicit in his speech, Hodgson was going to focus on national immigration policy, rather than running jails in his 500,000-person county.
Hodgson’s grandiose plans, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 election, were alarming but hardly surprising to those who have followed his career. For 23 years, Hodgson has been selling the same brand: a patriot above politics, a tough lawman, a fair jailer, and a man of faith and conviction who says what he thinks, does what is right, consequences be damned.
Despite his denials, Hodgson is deeply political, spending substantial time politicking on national issues. His attempts to patrol Bristol County’s towns and cities like his Stetson-hatted colleagues out West have largely been thwarted in a state where sheriffs simply run jails and serve papers. As a jailer, Hodgson’s methods are cruel, ineffective, and target people of color and the poor. But cruelty and caricature has become his political brand.
Hodgson’s limited mandate as a county sheriff may first appear to be a liability but it’s given him both time and latitude to push “[tough] on crime” measures that have made him a perfect ally for far-right groups. Adopting a persona similar to that of disgraced Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio—media hound and America’s self-declared “toughest sheriff”—Hodgson has hitched his wagon to a series of right-wing ideologues and lobbyists, and used cruelty toward those in his custody to appeal to fearful or xenophobic voters. Through association with far-right darlings like Arpaio, anti-immigrant groups, and—as a bevy of documents revealed this winter—his ingratiating himself with anti-immigrant politicians and staffers like Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, Hodgson’s hard work finally paid off with his admission to the inner sanctum of the Trump administration.
An Unjust Jailer
Born in 1954 in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to a Vatican courier and a former Army nurse, Hodgson was one of 13 children in a devoutly Catholic family. In 1977 he dropped out of college to join the Ocean City, Maryland, police department, rising through the ranks to become head of internal affairs before abruptly leaving in 1988 and moving to New Bedford, Massachusetts, his mother’s hometown. In 1991, he won an at-large seat on the city council, where he served nearly three terms.
In 1997, Republican Governor William Weld, who as a gubernatorial candidate had promised to introduce detainees to “the joys of breaking rocks,” appointed Hodgson sheriff to fill a vacancy left by a retiring predecessor. By Massachusetts law, Hodgson’s office is limited to running the county jail, process serving, and transporting detainees. In 2016 the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that sheriffs don’t have the same warrantless arrest powers of police officers. Hodgson’s official duties, then, consist of running the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford, men’s and women’s facilities at the Dartmouth jail, an ICE detention center, and a Civil Process division.
Hodgson embraced Weld’s draconian campaign promise as his own, moving in his first years to remove weight training equipment and televisions from county lock-ups and, according to several public defenders, restricting attorney visits. He reduced the quality and portions of food detainees were served, instituted Southern-style chain gangs, and set about ensuring that his jails were places of misery rather than rehabilitation.
When Hodgson stood for his first election as the incumbent sheriff in 1998, the United States’ most “famous” sheriff was Maricopa County, Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, then becoming notorious for his culture warring, racial profiling, and use of chain gangs. By 1999 Hodgson was already copying Arpaio’s methods when he flew to Arizona to visit the man who would eventually be found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal judge. “It’s not a buffet here,” Hodgson remembers Arpaio saying of the inadequate and inedible food he served in his “tent city” jail in 120 degree heat. Hodgson even appropriated Arpaio’s tagline: “Jail is not a country club.”
Hodgson’s philosophy as a sheriff is a simplistic, red meat pitch to law-and-order supporters: treat detainees so poorly that they won’t want to return to jail. Such was his message in a 2010 campaign ad:
Jail is the last stage of the criminal justice system, and it’s the most important when it comes to stopping the cycle of crime. … Jail is not a country club. That’s why, once you’ve done time in the Bristol County House of Corrections, you won’t want to come back.
Complaints about abuse began early in Hodgson’s tenure, including a 1998 lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment. In 2002, the sheriff imposed sweeping per-diem fees on prisoners, requiring each prisoner to pay for room, board, medical care, and education. The fees were struck down in 2004, sparking a lengthy legal fight. Ultimately, in 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Hodgson had “acted in excess of his authority and contrary to the intent of the Legislature.” But Hodgson still found a way to wring profits out of those he incarcerated: by providing such poor and insufficient food and clothing that prisoners were forced to buy both at personal expense from the jail’s commissary.
In 2009 a judge ruled that Hodgson was housing prisoners under cruel and unusual conditions. Prisoners were being triple-bunked at the Ash Street Jail, forced to sleep on the floor, and kept in cells without toilets. In 2017, it was also one of two jails Hodgson ran that could not document compliance with safe temperature regulations. Since the jail’s kitchen couldn’t pass a health inspection, meals had to be prepared in Dartmouth and delivered to the New Bedford facility. One detainee described the food as “not enough to feed a five year old child.” In 2018, following a food strike by detainees, Standard-Times reporters Jennette Barnes and Michael Bonner discovered expired food in the pantry and meals they described as inedible. Hodgson’s response was dismissive: “I always tell people, ‘Look, [if you want] cake, cookies, you want more ounces of orange juice or what have you, don’t come here.’”
In 2018 a class-action lawsuit asserted that a phone contract between Hodgson and Securus Technologies, which provided telecommunication services for detainees, constituted an illegal kickback scheme. Between August 2011 and June 2013, Hodgson made $1.17 million in “commissions” from Securus, as well as an additional lump sum payment of $820,000. Hodgson was charging detainees and their families at least double, and in some cases 30 times more per minute than the rate charged by the Department of Corrections. At least one suicide at the Bristol County jail has been directly linked to the cost of phone calls.
The previous year Hodgson had banned in-person visits to detainees, requiring family and friends of detainees to use video conferencing supplied by Securus. The ACLU objected and legislators had to add protections for in-person visitation to the 2018 criminal justice reform package in order to thwart Hodgson’s scheme.
Hodgson has also been repeatedly accused of neglecting detainees’ health. Men formerly jailed at the Bristol County House of Correction (BHOC) report that newly-incarcerated detainees are denied medications for substance addiction and endure painful withdrawal, in violation of Department of Correction medication policies.
In a second class-action lawsuit in 2018, Hodgson was accused of holding detainees with mental illnesses in solitary-confinement cells and denying them programs and services. Unsurprisingly, BHOC has the highest suicide rate of any county jail in Massachusetts, and Hodgson is currently fighting several wrongful death lawsuits. In 2019, Bristol County was tied for the most pretrial jail deaths in the state.
Allegations of corruption have also dogged Hodgson throughout his career. He’s been accused of patronage, boosting his friends’ pensions, taking questionable gifts from supporters, receiving kickbacks, abusing taxpayer money for personal expenses, mismanaging his office’s finances, and spending millions on doomed court cases.
When Hodgson initially ran for sheriff in 1998, his opponent, Rep. Joseph McIntyre, accused him of running a “patronage bazaar” in the sheriff’s office, and a newspaper slammed Hodgson for practices ranging from “hiring of publicity agents to his fattening of the payroll with patronage employees, who repay him with campaign contributions that he encourages.” Hodgson’s 2010 challengers charged him with trading jobs and pensions for political support. During a debate, one claimed, “the Sheriff has spent millions of dollars on unnecessary legal fees to three lawyers who are his personal friends and political contributors.”
By 2008, Hodgson had spent $1 million on a labor case he stubbornly took all the way to the Supreme Court. He also spent $3.4 million on other cases. Of that, $1.3 million went to attorney—and “special sheriff”—Bruce Assad. Another $1.3 million went to attorney Ronald Lowenstein, a donor whose family was flagged in 2004 for exceeding the legally permitted campaign maximum.
After the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct forced Judge Michael Livingstone off the bench for ethics violations in 2008, Hodgson appointed the disgraced judge to run the jail’s medical program, later admitting that former state Sen. William Q. “Biff” MacLean Jr., New Bedford City Councilor John T. Saunders, and a former mayor, Judge John Markey, had approached him looking for a job for Livingstone, who sought to beef up his state pension.
A state audit, released in 2018, discovered numerous problems with the sheriff’s relationship with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including Hodgson’s failure to reimburse the state nearly $350,000 in ICE payments deposited into one of at least a dozen sheriff’s accounts not monitored by the Comptroller and thus free from state oversight. Also in 2018, the social justice organization Bristol County for Correctional Justice obtained Hodgson’s travel records through a public information request, revealing that Hodgson had stuck taxpayers with the tab for tens of thousands of dollars of trips to Washington, Texas, Mackinac Island, Foxwoods, anti-immigrant events and right-wing conferences.
From his first years in office, Hodgson seemed determined to expand the scope of his role. He added 100 employees, “a SWAT-like special operations team,” and rolled out his Jim Crow-style chain gangs. A 2000 article in the Standard-Times on “The Hodgson empire” noted, “Once little more than a warden, the Bristol County sheriff is now the very visible head of what has become the largest law enforcement agency in Southeastern Massachusetts, with interests far beyond the mere housing and transportation of county prisoners.” Hodgson soon acquired more equipment and staff, including K9 units, and loaned them out to local police forces on his own terms. In 2000, Doherty reported, the Fall River Fourth of July parade featured “a contingent of heavily armed sheriff’s deputies—helmeted, with combat boots laced to mid-shin, machine guns at the ready—flanked by some of his 10 canine officers and a small armada of gleaming new trucks and vans emblazoned with the now-ubiquitous yellow and black insignia of the department.”
Often, Hodgson stepped on toes. When he instituted his chain gangs, New Bedford Mayor Fred Kalisz was outraged. “You can’t just go into a community and change the way public safety is done,” he told the Standard-Times. “To have someone come in with what some would call a privatized police force and try to force their ways on the community is just not productive.” George Leontire, New Bedford’s City Solicitor, put it less charitably to the Standard-Times: “He thinks it says ‘I’m a tough-guy boss.’ But I think he’s a Boss Hogg.” Lee Charlton, then-president of the New Bedford NAACP, recalled how Hodgson’s chain gangs rubbed salt into the county’s deep racial wounds. In the Whitest parts of Bristol County, Hodgson sold his methods to people worried about an invasion of “urban criminals” and who believed, in Charlton’s words, that they needed to “fear people like me.”
In 2003 Hodgson declared that New Bedford had become “a killing field” and, without approval from the city, launched patrols on city streets, prompting Mayor Kalisz to file a complaint in Superior Court. New Bedford’s police and the Bristol County District Attorney also decried the move, warning that Hodgson’s poorly-trained officers would compromise investigations and endanger real cops.
Still, Hodgson persisted—for many years—in seeking to acquire the patrol powers that Western sheriffs enjoy. In 2017 a retired Fall River police sergeant wrote a letter to the local paper, blasting Hodgson for conspiring with former mayor Jasiel Correia (who now faces federal corruption charges) to allow his officers to patrol Fall River, in violation of a labor agreement, and to take over the city’s jail. Hodgson brushes off criticisms of his many power grabs: “We are completely within our constitutional mandate,” he told the Standard-Times. “Counties were actually established even before the state… And I’ve never been a guy who believes before we can do anything we have to get a consensus. I’ve kind of been the guy to go out and do it.”
Hopping on the Anti-Immigrant Bandwagon
In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the Secure Communities program, enlisting local law enforcement in federal efforts to detect, detain, and remove non-citizens and collect fingerprints and other identification. The program was popular with Western sheriffs with patrol powers like Joe Arpaio, who stepped up his racial profiling of Latinx people and filled his jails to overflowing with federal detainees before being barred from participating in ICE programs in 2011.
ICE had already built Hodgson a $3.2 million detention facility, later named the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center. The facility opened in April 2007, just missing a raid that swept up 361 Central American workers. More than 200 of that number were immediately transported to Texas, but over 90 were housed in regional jails, including Hodgson’s Dartmouth facilities. Yet despite this infusion of ICE money and the millions Hodgson claimed the facility had received in ICE reimbursements, by 2009, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office was running a $5.4 million deficit and a 2010 state audit found extensive issues, including approximately 1,400 pieces of inventory that had no assessed value at Hodgson’s facilities. Hodgson had already been angry at Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick over what he charged was the state’s chronic underfunding and attempts to seize control of jails from sheriffs. But Patrick’s reservations about expanding Secure Communities was the last straw, and Hodgson went to war with the governor. In 2012, after receiving pressure and assurances from the Obama administration, Patrick relented and Secure Communities was implemented in all remaining jurisdictions. Hodgson had seemingly prevailed.
The campaign would mark Hodgson’s entry into anti-immigrant politics, but he would soon embrace the cause much more fully. In particular, he would align himself with various organizations launched by John H. Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist and White nationalist who created a network of over a dozen anti-immigrant groups, nearly half of which have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The three best-known Tanton groups are the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a lobbying and action group that has amassed great influence within the Trump administration; the report-generating Center for Immigration Studies (CIS); and NumbersUSA, a purportedly grassroots organization that claims nine million members. Both FAIR and CIS have spawned various front groups, including Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC), the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform (MCIR), and Bostonians Against Sanctuary Cities. Since his first, opportunistic embrace of anti-immigrant politics, Hodgson has come to forge strong connections with all of these groups and their leaders.
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Sheriffs are elected local officials with surprisingly little accountability but they have a lot of power to enforce national immigration policy through arrests, 287(g) programs (which authorize state and local authorities to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants), and Intergovernmental Service Agreements. And sheriffs can bring even unpopular immigration policies to their communities in the name of “protecting citizens.” In 2011 FAIR began publicly cultivating sheriffs to carry out its agenda. According to the group’s 2011 Annual Report, FAIR
…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. We invited sheriffs who played the most prominent roles in addressing illegal immigration locally to FAIR’s national talk radio event, Hold Their Feet to the Fire, where they shared their stories and expertise with listeners across the country.
By 2014 Hodgson was taking a leadership role in the organization, working with FAIR’s long-serving National Field Director, Susan Tully, to organize a “fact-finding mission” to the Rio Grande so sheriffs could “see exactly what is going on along the border,” as Tully put it.
The same year Hodgson used Bristol County Sheriff Office letterhead to write to fellow anti-“amnesty” sheriffs, asking them to travel to Washington, D.C., in late 2014 to support Senators Jeff Sessions, David Vitter, and other Congress members opposed to the Obama administration’s border enforcement policies. Hodgson’s letter called for at least 200 sheriffs to make the trip and warned that immigrants bring diseases that overwhelm public health and pose a national security threat.
In 2015, Hodgson helped FAIR host a “border summit” in McAllen, Texas, with CIS’s Jessica Vaughan allegedly providing the training. The summit took place at the Texas ranch of Mike and Linda Vickers, founders of the vigilante group Texas Border Volunteers, itself an offshoot of the Minuteman Project, a loose-knit group of border vigilantes, some of whose members have been affiliated with White supremacist militias and linked to murders and incidents like the illegal detention of hundreds of migrants in April 2019. Like Hodgson, the Vickers are also regular attendees of FAIR’s Hold Their Feet to the Fire events.
The participation of sheriffs at these events, in which members of far-right organizations become guests on dozens of talk radio shows broadcast directly from the conference site, are typically organized by FAIR’s Susan Tully, an anti-immigration hardliner who, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has baselessly claimed that the Obama administration ran school buses across the border to provide free K-12 education for Mexicans; was involved in organizing a racist housing ban on immigrants in Fremont, Nebraska, in 2013; and has maintained extensive contacts with militia members and White supremacists.
Hodgson has been a consistent attendee at Hold Their Feet to the Fire events, most recently in 2019. In 2017, Hodgson joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors and has appeared at anti-immigrant events sponsored by both FAIR and CIS. When asked if his membership on the board of a group founded by a White supremacist might be construed as endorsement of those views or just poor judgment, Hodgson bristled, telling me, “I’m on a Board of Advisors. I go once a year to listen.”
But Hodgson is too modest. In addition to his ongoing participation in FAIR events, in 2014 he delivered a two-hour dinner address to its board on “The Effect of the President’s Decisions on DACA and its Impact on Our Law Enforcement Challenges.” Likewise, in 2016 he joined FAIR’s “Sanctuary Cities and Law Enforcement” roundtable—an event that also included a talk by FAIR’s law enforcement manager entitled, “Soros Hacked: The Truth Behind His Big Money Network to Destroy U.S. Borders.”
Center for Immigration Studies
Regarded by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) publishes a variety of statistics and reports, though their accuracy has been challenged by the Cato Institute, the American Immigration Council, and others. CIS leadership, including Executive Director Mark Krikorian and Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan, frequently testify as expert witnesses before Congress, despite their track record of racist commentary and associations. In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, Krikorian remarked, “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.” Vaughn has appeared as a featured speaker at an annual workshop for the White nationalist publisher The Social Contract Press (another John Tanton project), where she spoke alongside White nationalist Peter Brimelow, founder of the racist website VDARE. She’s also appeared on broadcasts of the CIS radio show “Borderline” with Chilton Williamson, Jr., a longtime editor at the neo-Confederate Chronicles magazine.
Hodgson has worked closely with the organization. In 2013, halfway through the Obama administration, a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight was trying to find common ground on immigration reforms, while two CIS alumni, Janice Kephart and Steven Camarota, were working for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to scuttle those efforts. Shortly before the Gang of Eight spoke in one chamber of the Senate, Sessions’ aide, current White House immigration advisor Stephen Miller, was busy in another readying the microphone for a parade of sheriffs and ICE agents ready to testify against the reforms as “amnesty first, enforcement perhaps never” and painting immigrants as “criminals who have committed felonies, who have assaulted our officers, and who prey on children.” Hodgson was among them, and when he spoke, he painted a grim picture of 12 million dangerous, criminal aliens “disrespect[ing]” U.S. laws and bringing disease. “Illegal immigrants are creating public health hazards, public safety concerns,” he said, “living in homes, one-room apartments with three families, taking mattresses off the streets that are infested with bedbugs, filling our emergency rooms for lack of preventative care and costing the taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.”
In 2017, Hodgson testified with Vaughan at Immigration and Border Security hearings in Washington. In January 2020, the two teamed up again at the Massachusetts State House to testify against the Safe Communities Act, a bill that would limit state involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Most recently, this April, Hodgson participated in a CIS teleconference with Krikorian entitled “Should ICE Release or Continue Detention for Aliens during Pandemic?” Hodgson said it was “outrageous” that he was held accountable by the Massachusetts congressional delegation for opposing the release of detainees during a COVID-19 outbreak at one of his jails. The teleconference ended with a plug for a hotline to report “illegal-alien crime.”
Front Groups and White Supremacists
In September 2019 Hodgson appeared at an “Angel Families” event sponsored by Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC), a FAIR front group with numerous White supremacist connections that relies on visceral testimony by relatives of victims of car accidents or crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to push its anti-immigrant agenda. During January’s hearings about the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act, AVIAC’s president and vice president both testified, alongside Hodgson, in opposition to the bill. Also testifying that day was Lou Murray, a member of President Trump’s Catholic Advisory Group and founder of the FAIR- and CIS-aligned group Bostonians Against Sanctuary Cities; and Steve Kropper, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a “nativist extremist group” and whose members have collaborated with the Minuteman Project, which has documented connections to White supremacist groups.
Besides FAIR and CIS, MCIR is also affiliated with the Tanton network’s The Social Contract Press, which in 2016 published a piece by MCIR Executive Board member John Thompson, who approvingly quotes White supremacist Jason Richwine, author of a paper entitled, “IQ and Immigration Policy.” (One line from Richwine’s paper reads, “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”)
In 2018, Hodgson announced that the National Sheriffs’ Association would be crowd-funding Trump’s border wall. The project eventually folded and its website now redirects donors to a site named Fund the Wall, run by the American Border Foundation (ABF), a Wyoming charity connected to the right-wing militia group American Defence Force, and which to date has only managed to collect a little over $227,000. ABF Managing Director Quentin Kramer has appeared on the right-wing radio show Southern Sense, and its communications director, Jeremy Messina, frequently posted White supremacist content on his Facebook page, before it was deleted. In January 2019, Hodgson appeared at a Washington, D.C., press conference with ABF leadership and members of AVIAC, congratulating them. “Thank you for representing what I think is the best of America,” he said. “I will tell you that the sheriffs of America are standing with all of you.”
Hodgson’s ire isn’t limited to Latinx immigrants and refugees; he’s tied into a broader far-right ecosystem that includes a network of Islamophobic leaders responsible for mobilizing resentment against Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. During our September 2019 interview, Hodgson parotted a debunked claim that New Jersey Muslims had celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11. This claim is similar to one made by Donald Trump, which earned a “Pants on Fire” rating from Politifact.
Hodgson is also connected to Dennis Michael Lynch, a filmmaker and staunch supporter of far-right movements from anti-immigrant groups to Patriot movement leaders like Cliven Bundy. In 2015 Hodgson appeared with Lynch at Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, Massachusetts, a synagogue run by Rabbi Jonathan Hausman, who has hosted numerous anti-Islam speakers, including far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, frequently described as a neofascist. When asked about the appearance, Hodgson downplayed the connection, saying he was just there doing his duty to inform the public about terrorism: “They asked me to come speak about terrorism,” he told me. “That’s why I was there, because of my involvement with the terrorism task force.”
Another group of Muslim-bashers Hodgson is connected with, Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT for America, claims to have more than 1,000 chapters around the country (although this figure is disputed), and espouses the crudest sort of Islamophobia. The Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates, and others have documented ACT’s many links with antisemitic, neonazi, Christian Right, Identitarian, and White supremacist groups. The group, which claims that the U.S. Constitution, Western civilization, and Judeo-Christian culture are under attack by Islam, has sponsored anti-Muslim legislation and organizes anti-Muslim events, sometimes with neonazis. In 2017 and 2019, Hodgson and Gabriel, a long-time guest at the event, appeared together at FAIR’s Hold Their Feet to the Fire event in Washington, D.C.
From Bristol County to Washington
In December 2019, the ACLU of Massachusetts published a trove of documents requested from Hodgson, including hundreds of emails between him and the White House, and dozens with White House immigration advisors Stephen Miller and John Zadrozny.
The correspondence revealed that Hodgson had made more than a dozen trips to meet with Miller, attend White House briefings, and participate in events organized by FAIR and attended by CIS staffers. The ACLU’s release of documents followed a prior cache of emails published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, exposing the extent of Stephen Miller’s contacts with worst-of-the-worst White supremacist organizations. Hodgson’s unctuous emails to Miller and to Zadrozny, who came from FAIR and is now acting chief of staff for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, were filled with suggestions for punishing state law enforcement agencies and municipalities that didn’t cooperate with ICE, and for turning his state Department of Motor Vehicles into an anti-immigrant intelligence agency. Hodgson complained to Miller about Massachusetts laws, courts, legislators, and its attorney general, and repeatedly asked for Miller’s help circumventing state oversight of his ICE-related expenses. In one email that particularly outraged Bristol County residents, Hodgson reported his own church to Miller for displaying “Know Your Rights” cards for immigrant congregants.
This March, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, detainees in Hodgson’s tightly packed ICE detention facility at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction, unsuccessfully petitioned him for release and sanitation of the facilities. The Massachusetts congressional delegation called for the release of people who posed no danger to society. And at the end of March, the detainees, represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights, sued Hodgson, ICE, and the Department of Homeland Security for the immediate release of vulnerable people and for greater COVID-19 testing. U.S. District Court Judge William Young issued a preliminary injunction, finding that both ICE and Hodgson had likely violated the constitutional rights of detainees by refusing to test them for the virus.
Young’s ruling—ordering both testing and the release of vulnerable detainees—infuriated Hodgson, who countered by publishing a “Prisoner Release Alert” newsletter, listing charges some of the detainees faced. On May 1, 10 ICE detainees were finally summoned for testing and told to bring their belongings. Suspecting the punitive use of solitary confinement for requesting the tests, the detainees refused to leave common and sleeping areas.
The riot that followed has differing accounts. Hodgson claims the ICE detainees “rushed” corrections officers. But immigration attorney Ira Alkalay, who was speaking with one of the detainees during the disturbance, told a WBSM News reporter that “Hodgson threw his client to the ground and pepper sprayed him when he was on the phone with counsel.” On May 6, the Massachusetts congressional delegation and several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called for an investigation into the Bristol County jail riot. Both the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General and the state Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight promised investigations as well, as did Attorney General Maura Healey, who asked for surveillance footage of the incident.
By May 12, nine total detainees and six jail staff had been infected. A week later, the ACLU of Massachusetts announced they were suing  to obtain jail records, explaining, “The public deserves to know what happened in Bristol County’s immigration detention facility.” Their statement continued, “That is especially true when the leader of that government institution has been accused of personal misconduct during the incident, and given ongoing controversy about potentially unsafe conditions there.”
Hodgson faces re-election in 2022.
Correction: In 2017, a federal judge found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt for willfully defying a court order banning the targeted detention of individuals because of their immigration status and without state charges. In this case, criminal contempt is a misdemeanor—not a felony. This article has been updated to correct an error in legal nomenclature.
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American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Inc. v. Bristol County Sheriff’s Officedocuments/complaintaclum
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