ICE terminates detention contract with Bristol sheriff

Hodgson, a Trump backer, calls it 'political hit job'

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION has terminated its contract with Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson to run an immigration detention center, citing the facility’s “unacceptable” conditions for detainees. 

US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in a memo to Tae Johnson, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that he is ordering the termination of agreements with the immigration detention center in Dartmouth and a second detention center in Ocilla, Georgia. He wrote that the immigrants being held in Dartmouth should be transferred to another nearby facility. 

“I understand the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Dartmouth, Massachusetts is of minimal operational significance to the agency,” Mayorkas wrote in the memo. “Moreover, there is ample evidence that the Detention Center’s treatment of detained individuals and the conditions of detention are unacceptable.” 

Mayorkas wrote that he is operating under the “foundational principle” that “we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.” 

Hodgson, in a statement, accused Mayorkas of “putting his left-wing political agenda above public safety” by ending the contract. “This is nothing but a political hit job orchestrated by Sec. Mayorkas, the Biden administration and other anti-law enforcement groups to punish outspoken critics and advance their partisan agenda to score political points,” Hodgson said. “This decision puts the people of Bristol County, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States of America at greater risk of being victimized by criminal illegal aliens.”

Hodgson, a Republican, was an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump. He has long been a target of prisoners’ rights advocates who have raised questions about the treatment of detainees in his facility. 

The Bristol County immigration detention facility was the subject of a class action lawsuit filed during the COVID-19 pandemic, challenging the unsafe conditions there. A judge found that the facility was overcrowded and lacked proper COVID testing and contact tracing, and the case was ultimately settled. According to Lawyers for Civil Rights, which filed the lawsuit, that litigation succeeded in reducing the population of ICE detainees in the Bristol County facility from 148 immigrants to just seven people.  

“Today’s decision to close the Bristol County ICE detention facility is long overdue,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights in a statement. “Sheriff Hodgson has inflicted grievous harm on vulnerable immigrants in his custody for years, and we enthusiastically applaud the Biden Administration’s decision to put an immediate end to the abuse.” 

The immigration detention facility was also the site of a disturbance on May 1, 2020, after 10 detainees refused to take COVID-19 tests, which escalated into a conflict between staff and detainees. A report by Attorney General Maura Healey found that the sheriff’s office used excessive and disproportionate force and acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risk of harm to detainees when facility staff reacted to non-violent behavior with dogs and pepper spray. Healey had recommended that ICE terminate its contract with the Bristol Sheriff’s office. 

Healey said in a statement that she commends the Department of Homeland Security for ending the partnership with the sheriff’s office, which she said “has a long history of abuse and neglect of immigration detainees.”  

“Our extensive investigation and advocacy have made it clear that the Sheriff’s Office is not willing to take any steps to protect the rights and safety of detainees, and that ICE must sever ties with BCSO,” Healey said. “This decision under the Biden Administration ensures that the civil rights of immigrants are protected and not violated in a callous disregard for human life and dignity.” 

Massachusetts’ US Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and eight of the state’s nine members of Congress, all Democrats, released a joint statement commending the Biden administration’s decision as “just and humane,” and citing Healey’s report. “These findings made clear that the BCSO should not be engaged in immigrant detention,” the members of Congress said. “Every person has the right to dignity, safety, and due process. This decision affirms that right, and is a victory for the detainees, families, lawyers, and advocates who have pushed for more accountability and more humane treatment by the BCSO.” 

The only member of the state’s congressional delegation not to sign the statement was 8th District Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and immigrants rights groups have long called for an end to all contracts between state sheriffs and federal immigration authorities.  

CommonWealth reported in April that the Franklin County sheriff voluntarily shut down that county’s detention center for immigrants, saying the federal government was not sending it enough detainees. An ICE detention center at the Suffolk jail closed in 2019. Once the Bristol County facility shutters, the only remaining ICE detention center in Massachusetts will be in Plymouth County.  

“The end of ICE contracts with Bristol County is a long overdue and critical step in decoupling Massachusetts law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts in a statement. She called the move particularly important “because it strips Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who carried out the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda with zeal, of custodial responsibility for detained immigrants.” 

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

According to a 2020 report by Harvard Law School’s Immigration Clinic, which engages in legal work and advocacy on behalf of immigrants impacted by criminal and immigration law, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department first entered into an agreement with ICE in 2000, at which time it was paid $75 a day for each immigrant it housed. The rate was last raised to $98 a day in 2017, plus additional payments for transportation. Between January 2017 and October 2019, the Bristol Sheriff’s Department sent invoices to ICE seeking an average reimbursement of $659,889 a month. 

Mayorkas’ memo did not give a reason for closing the Georgia facility. The Washington Post, which first reported on the memo, said federal investigations are ongoing there into allegations that a doctor at the Georgia detention center was performing unwanted hysterectomies and other procedures on female detainees.