For 30-year-old Sherrie Andre, who has family and close friends that are undocumented, the politics of immigration hits close to home.
“I have a Southeast Asian identity and a mixed status family and Southeast Asian people are being deported at a pretty rapid rate right now,” said Andre, a co-founder of the FANG Collective, an organization that has been working to raise public awareness of the little-known collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE.
Andre will go to trial in Massachusetts on Tuesday for charges stemming from an August 2018 protest calling for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson to end an agreement that allows his deputies to act as U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers. A similar agreement allows Hodgson to house ICE detainees at the Bristol County House of Corrections.
“I’ve seen how undocumented people are treated in this country and how there is actually very little opportunity for them to access citizenship in a fair and just way,” Andre said. Andre and three other activists took part in the protest in solidarity with ICE detainees at the Bristol County House of Corrections, who at the time were engaged in a hunger strike over inhumane conditions at the facility.
Andre said they also took action to oppose Sheriff Hodgson’s stance on immigration and to shine a spotlight on what they say are racist and discriminatory treatment of immigrants by both Bristol County Sheriff’s deputies and by correctional officers in the detention facilities he supervises.
On the morning of August 21, 2018, two activists locked themselves to cement buckets, blockading an entrance to the facility. At the same time, Andre and a fourth activist attached themselves to 26-foot tripods, blocking another entrance.
Video shows they were pulled to the ground and arrested by Bristol County Sheriff’s deputies a short time later.
Bristol County Sheriffs violently tearing down a tripod blockade that was shutting down a prison and ICE facility. After the climber fell, the Sheriffs unsuccessfully tried to use pain compliance to get them to release from their lockbox. #ShutDownICE #AbolishICE pic.twitter.com/L7bunqGhRG
— FANG (@FangCollective) August 23, 2018
“We tried to explain to them, that if they moved anything that they would hurt us and they kept saying, ‘look, well then we’ll hurt you.’ I said, ‘you could kill us’ and then they said, ‘well then we’ll kill you, ’” Andre said, adding that they suffered head and back injuries when the deputies’ caused the tripod to fall.
“The deputies responded with no level of de-escalation and that they were so aggressive with such a public audience, that just makes me wonder what behaviors the sheriff is allowing inside the facility and how they’re actually treating people in there when no one’s looking,” Andre said.
“We Are on the Side of the Angels!”
A vocal immigration critic, Hodgson’s support for President Trump’s immigration policies — and his harsh words for those who oppose them — is no secret.
The sheriff has offered to send inmates from the Bristol County House of Corrections to build President Trump’s border wall and has called for sanctuary city leaders to be arrested. Hodgson has also faced sharp criticism — and several lawsuits — over the alleged inhumane treatment of individuals detained by the county, including ICE detainees.
Hodgson has communicated frequently with Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor to President Trump and architect of many of the administration’s harshest immigration policies. Emails between Miller and Breitbart news prior to the 2016 election revealed Miller’s “alignment with white nationalist thought and far-right extremism,” according to a recent investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Hodgson, however, sung Miller’s praises in a 2017 email.
“Stephen, Excellent article highlighting your unique talents, intellect, and political savvy. The President is truly fortunate to have someone who is in sync with his mindset and able to drive his agenda. Congratulations!” wrote Hodgson to Miller in an email recently released by the ACLU.
After Andre’s arrest, Hodgson forwarded a news story on the protest to Miller.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Hodgson wrote in an August 2018 email.
“We are on the side of the angels!” Hodgson wrote in another email to Miller, referring to a 2017 proposal to allow law enforcement and court officers across Massachusetts to make arrests for ICE.
“Yes,” Miller replied.
Local Law Enforcement Operating As ICE Officers
A 287(g) agreement with federal authorities allows Bristol County deputies to serve immigration warrants and operate as U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers in certain situations.
An intergovernmental service agreement (IGSA) allows for those detained on immigration-related issues across New England to be housed at the Bristol County House of Corrections, where Hodgson has been accused of violating immigrants’ civil rights, receiving kickbacks from inmates’ phone calls and creating inhumane conditions in the facility.
Hodgson did not respond to a request for comment, but shortly after the protest said he wanted the group to be punished to the fullest extent of the law because their actions were “clearly premeditated.”
Hodgson also said he has no plans to pull his department out of the agreements to work with ICE, which he could do at any time.
“I’m looking to train more officers. I would no sooner end relationships with the FBI or DEA,” he told the Providence Journal.
A bill pending before Massachusetts lawmakers, however, could change those plans.
Speaking at a 2017 hearing, Hodgson opposed a similar proposal and blamed undocumented immigrants for increasing crime even when they are victims because they are easy targets for native-born criminals.
“By having more people here illegally, we have more crimes, whether they’re victims or perpetrating them, we’re exposing our communities to more crimes,” Hodgson said.
The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Jan. 24.
Raising Awareness, Working for Change
Andre and the other protestors were initially offered a plea deal by the prosecutor, which would have imposed six months of probation and community service. The offer was rejected by district court Judge Katie Rayburn who told the prosecutor the four should pay restitution.
Two of the protesters eventually plead guilty to trespassing and each served 10-day sentences last year. Another avoided jail time, but was ordered to pay $3,000 to cover expenses related to the protest.
Andre, who has rejected offers of a plea deal and could face up to 30 days in jail, said they hope the upcoming trial will keep the spotlight on immigrant rights, the collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE, and other potential abuses of power by Sheriff Hodgson.
They also hope to raise awareness of the reasons individuals and families migrate and the challenges they face.
“A lot of people are here now because they are refugees, because of U.S. militarization during the Vietnam War, that’s how people ended up here, and this is the only place that they know and now they’re being sent back to countries where they haven’t been for many decades and maybe have never been,” Andre said.
Andre has also worked with undocumented survivors of domestic violence who face even greater challenges, particularly for those who have started families here.
“Many survivors were afraid to even enter a shelter, because now their children were citizens and then they were afraid of trying to have to gain full custody of their children, because they were never able to obtain citizenship,” Andre said.
“Additionally, I’ve have been organizing with this environmental lens and acknowledging again that climate refugees especially need support,” Andre said, adding that those fleeing climate change are often overlooked.
“It is very difficult for people to receive any type of status as a climate refugee because people are not acknowledging that this is a reason why people are migrating. All those things are very important to me in general and I do feel that they’re all interconnected,” Andre said, adding that climate-related migration is further fueled by the U.S. military, the largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet.
“Thinking about climate refugees, as well as other people who come to this country, they’re all escaping from harm and much of that harm stems from U.S. policies,” Andre said.
Going through the court process has given Andre a better perspective of what individuals with fewer resources and less support go through.
“Particularly to see how people are treated in Bristol County, by the judges and the prosecutors, it’s just dehumanizing,” Andre said.
“It is so much worse for the people who don’t have the privilege to even take action in the ways that I did — I’m so lucky to be navigating through this process as somebody who has the privilege of citizenship,” Andre said.
“One thing I keep reminding myself is that anything I did because of this issue is great, but it’s not enough until these 287(g) agreements have completely been abolished and the systems are completely gone.”