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Texas sheriff bans deputies from working at tent city for migrant children

“It’s not consistent with the values of the sheriff’s office,” said the El Paso County sheriff.

by Christianna Silva
Jun 21 2018, 12:45pm

A South Texas sheriff has banned his deputies from working off-duty at the newly-erected Tornillo tent city for migrant children separated from their parents, because the new policy is “wrong.”

“I told them absolutely not. I think it’s wrong,” El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles told the Washington Post of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that has led to children being forcibly separated from their families at the U.S. southern border. “It’s not consistent with the values of the sheriff’s office.”

Sheriff Wiles said he fears the widespread outrage over the Tornillo desert shelter near El Paso, now housing only boys, and the administration's new policy in general could damage his department’s relationship with their community. He can deny any off-duty contracts officers choose and said he made the decision because he doesn’t support Trump’s policy and doesn’t want to give the impression that anyone in their community does.

About 2,300 children, including babies, have been separated from their families and sent to shelters across the country, and it’s not clear how or if they will be reunited.

“It was my decision that we not work at those facilities simply because that policy of the Trump administration is not within the values of this organization,” Wiles told local station KFOX14. “And having our employees work there would give an impression to our community that we support that policy.”

Wiles said the new policy could hinder the deputies’ ability to effectively enforce the law.

“Clearly, the outcry from the community would affect our ability to maintain the confidence and respect between the community we serve,” Wiles told USA Today. “It would impact our community policing efforts that we worked so many years to build.”

The policy has led to temporary tent cities being erected to house the influx of undocumented minors, some who crossed the border alone and others with family members. Since the implementation of the “zero tolerance” policy in April, the number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has increased by more than 20 percent. The Tornillo facility can house around 360 children, which could increase to about 4,000 minors in the near future. About 20 percent of the minors living in the tent city were separated from their families, according to The Texas Tribune.

He discovered last week that some of his deputies had been working as guards when he found out why the temporary shelter was being built.

“On Friday, I got a call that they were going to house kids there, but eventually it would house kids being separated from their parents being prosecuted for immigration violations. I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Wiles told USA Today.

And the deputies don’t have anything to say against that decision. Sheriffs are elected officials, answerable directly to their constituents, and are not legally obliged to comply with federal immigration officials.

“As far as him deciding that is not for the benefit of the department or the benefit of the community, he has every right to sit there and deny who should work [what] part-time job,” Robert Horstman, president of the Sheriffs Deputies Association, told KFOX14. “And there’s really nothing that we have to say for or against it, is pretty much the rule.”

Horstman added that there are other opportunities for off-duty deputies to work.

“There’s so many opportunities for these guys to work at different part-time events and security and traffic control and things like that where this part-time opportunity doesn’t present itself. There’s probably other part-time opportunities they can participate in,” he said.

On Wednesday, President Trump caved to intense criticism and signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating families at ports of entry — but Wiles’ decision still stands.

“Certainly, if they come back to us and they provide us a different environment that we can support, then maybe,” Wiles told KFOX14. “But quite frankly, I think they have the capacity to provide for security at these facilities without us.”

A group of mayors from across the country were headed to El Paso Thursday to gain access to the Tornillo detention facility, which is located near the Marcelino Serna entry point.

Cover image: This undated photo provided by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families shows the shelter used to house unaccompanied foreign children in Tornillo, Texas. (HHS’ Administration for Children and Families via AP)