'Modern-day slave labor': ACLU calls plan for inmates to build Trump's wall 'unconstitutional'
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson says Trump’s proposal to build a 2,000-mile wall along the border with Mexico is a necessary step for immigration reform.
“We won’t have legitimate immigration reform in this country until we build a wall,” Hodgson said Wednesday, according to the Herald News.
At his swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, the Republican sheriff made a formal offer to Trump, saying, “inmates from Bristol County and others around the nation, through Project NICE, will help build that wall.”
Project NICE, which stands for National Inmates’ Community Endeavors, is a work program which aims to rehabilitate inmates by giving them job skills while providing free labor for the state.
Hodgson’s proposal to use Bristol inmates to build the wall was called “the debut of Project NICE” on the Bristol County Sheriff's Department’s Facebook page, which also stated it would greatly expand the program to a national level “with the cooperation of Sheriff’s Offices across the country, who would also send inmate workers.”
“A lot of the sheriffs across the nation want to use this resource,” Hodgson said, according to the Boston Herald. “This is a chance for us to save taxpayers’ money. It’s long overdue.”
The ACLU responded to Hodgson with a letter on Thursday, requesting materials related to Project NICE, including “All records supporting the claim that you can think of no other project, aside from having Massachusetts inmates travel to southern states to build a wall, that would have a more positive impact on the inmates and on our country.”
"It’s most likely unconstitutional." ACLU’s Laura Rótolo, told the Boston Globe. “The idea of using modern-day slave labor to send people thousands of miles away from their Massachusetts home to build a wall to keep out other vulnerable populations, it’s just preposterous,”
“If Sheriff Hodgson follows through on this gimmick, the ACLU of Massachusetts is prepared to use every tool in our toolbox, including litigation, to stop him,” she added.
Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, told the Washington Post that only volunteers would be sent to the border.
“We would never force them to do it,” Darling said, adding that inmates who volunteered for Project NICE would receive reduced sentences and vocational skills they can use once they are released.
Although Hodgson did not specify who would pay for the transportation, housing, and security for the inmates on the southern border, Darling told reporters that the sheriff is hoping to team up with FEMA and use federal funds to cover the costs.
When asked if he had asked Governor Charlie Baker (R) about the idea, Hodgson said on Boston Herald Radio that he had not yet talked to the governor.
“I did see a comment by a spokesperson today about the importance of making sure we focus on -- here in Massachusetts, which I agree with the governor on, we want to do that. We don’t want to sacrifice projects here, but this national initiative is still something that will happen with the national sheriffs not just indigenous to Massachusetts,” he said.