Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack and Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin were among the 42 sheriffs at a White House meeting with administration officials over illegal immigration issues.
“It’s a different world up here and there is no doubt about it, it can be emotional at times,” said Mack.
Franklin herself was the subject of an in depth December 2017, New York Times article investigating the circumstances behind a potential federal investigation into her office’s use of jail food funds.
On Thursday, she sympathized with the president.
“I had to applaud when he said, ‘New York Times (is) fake news,'” said Franklin, who is not seeking re-election in November and will end her tenure as sheriff in January 2019. “I’ve been there.”
The sheriffs’ attendance, part of a three-day visit to Capital Hill sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, also served as backdrop during president’s public rebuke of a highly critical editorial piece reportedly written by someone inside his administration and posted first by The New York Times.
“This is what we have to deal with,” said Trump, turning to face the sheriffs who stood on a podium behind him during a photo op inside the White House’s East Room. “And, you know, the dishonest media – because you people deal with it as well as I do – it’s really a disgrace.”
Said Trump: “Someday, when I’m not president, which will be 6-1/2 years from now and The New York Times and CNN and these phony media outlets will be out of business, folks. They’ll be out of business because there will be nothing to write, and there will be nothing of interest.”
Trump’s remarks, which received applause from the supportive sheriffs, drew a rebuke Thursday from the ACLU of Alabama.
In remarks to AL.com, the Montgomery-based division of the national organization said “a free press is fundamental to democracy precisely because they hold elected officials accountable for their words and actions. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials like sheriffs are not props but are public employees sworn to protect and serve our communities.”
Franklin said she never felt like a prop during the president’s appearance. She also said she felt that Trump’s interaction with a reporter, who shouted a question to Trump about the Op-Ed, was unscripted.
“Some people said it was scripted, but it didn’t appear that way to me,” said Franklin. “Trump was leaving. He did pull out the statistics he had been given and briefed on. I think President Trump is in a position at this point that anywhere there is media, he’s probably prepared for it. But I don’t think that this was a (scripted) moment. It seemed like it took him a little off guard.”
Said Mack, “I think it was a surprise. I don’t think it was planned.”
Franklin said from her observation, there was no prearranged encounter planned between Trump and the reporter. “He was walking out the door when it happened and the reporter leaned over a barrier (and shouted out a question). He stopped, turned around, and addressed it.”
Trump’s public remarks also included highlights of what he says are his administration’s accomplishments. They were written on a piece of paper he had tucked inside his suit pocket.
“All of you people benefited tremendously from the tax cuts,” Trump said, referring to the president’s significant legislative victory late last year. His comment drew applause from the sheriffs.
Phillip Rawls, a journalism instructor at Auburn University and a former longtime reporter with The Associated Press who covered Alabama politics and government, said Trump’s speech before the supportive sheriffs is nothing new for politicians to do.
“All presidents give speeches to friendly audiences rather than critics,” said Rawls. “President Barack Obama knew he would have a friendly audience when he spoke in Selma in 2015 for the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday.’ He knew everyone attending the event would share his interest in voting rights and civil rights.”
Rawls added, “It’s what smart politicians do.”
Franklin and Mack, meanwhile, were in Washington, D.C., visiting with members of Congress and urging them to support tougher immigration policies as well as encouraging national support for E-Verify.
That system, in place in 20 states including Alabama, would be authorized nationally if legislation is adopted requiring employers to use the electronic system to ensure newly hired employees are U.S. citizens or foreign nationals authorized to work in the country legally.
The sheriffs also encouraged Congress to support a budget to continue construction on Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexican border wall, and to continue funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mack, who has been in law enforcement for over three decades, said it was the first time he can remember a presidential administration reaching out to county officials and asking, “What are you seeing and dealing with?'”
“There is a two-way communication and they are giving us feedback on the issues they fight in the Senate and the House,” said Mack.
Said Franklin: “The process this week has been about bringing information to them and that is what the federal government wants are boots on the ground and asking the sheriffs what trends they are seeing locally in their respective communities and across America.”
ICE arrests are up within the five-state region based in New Orleans, which includes Alabama. For the first three quarters of fiscal year 2018, there were 7,584 arrests within the New Orleans district, or just slightly below the 7,968 arrests made in all of fiscal year 2017.
Both years are an increase from fiscal years 2016 and 2015. The federal government’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Mack said the Baldwin County Jail has seen a rise in the number of ICE detainments within the past two years.
“We don’t necessarily have a huge illegal immigrant population in Baldwin County, but we do have a huge transient problem because of Interstate 10,” said Mack. “Two years ago, we managed maybe 5-10 illegal immigrant detainees per day by ICE. Now, we are averaging 30-a-day.”
Mack said that drug-related arrests along the interstate, which connects Mississippi to Florida through Mobile and Baldwin counties, continues to be high.
“The drugs we are seeing coming in from South and Central America continues to be increasing because of the weakness at our borders,” said Mack.
Franklin said the combating undocumented immigration concerns isn’t an issue “just for border states.” She, like Mack, said Alabama’s interstates – including I-65 and I-20 – are utilized for drug smuggling.
“One of the things we addressed as well was how the opioid crisis relates to drug smuggling from the Southern border and how it’s a cost for our citizens,” Franklin said. “We are not enforcing our borders with these laws, and … drug cartels and human trafficking and things like that are happening because it’s like open season on criminals to utilize that weakness to profit from their crimes.”