El Paso Times, Texas
El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles has banned his deputies from working off-duty security at the tent facility for immigrant children separated from their parents in Tornillo.
The controversy over the child-holding site would damage community relations with the Sheriff’s Office, Wiles said.
Deputies had worked guarding equipment last week when the temporary shelter was being built on federal land at the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry, Wiles said.
“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 said about allowing deputies to work at the site.
Wiles canceled permission allowing deputies to work security Friday while in New Orleans at the National Sheriffs’ Association conference.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke at the conference. Nielsen defend her agency’s stance amid uproar over the separation of undocumented immigrant families.
Wiles, a Democrat, said that he didn’t attend the speeches by Sessions and Nielsen because he disliked the politics.
The Tornillo off-duty security job was linked to a company that ran a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children on the Doña Ana Range Complex on Fort Bliss land a few years ago.
“What had happened a couple of years ago, we were approached by a private company looking for security officers for a facility in Doña Ana (County) under the Obama administration,” Wiles said.
In 2016, during a surge of unaccompanied children at the border, Fort Bliss housed nearly 500 children from Central America at the Army post’s Doña Ana Range Complex. The shelter closed March 1, 2017.
“The same company called last week (and said) that they were moving equipment and needed us to guard equipment,” Wiles said.
Wiles said that the Doña Ana shelter housed children who had arrived by themselves at the border or were in danger.
“This one (in Tornillo) is a totally different, concerning that these are children forcibly taken from their parents or relatives,” Wiles said. “That’s not a policy we support.”
There has been growing international outrage over the separation of immigrant children from their parents.
If deputies had been allowed to continue working off-duty at the tent site, it could have hurt the Sheriff’s Office’s standing in the community, Wiles said.
“Clearly, the outcry from the community would affect our ability to maintain the confidence and respect between the community we serve,” Wiles said. “It would impact our community policing efforts that we worked so many years to build.”
Wiles added that the federal government has its own security at the Tornillo site, which he feels is secure.
Wiles added that deputies still will respond to any calls, if needed, at the tent facility run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Protests in Tornillo have been peaceful and there have been no problems, but deputies will continue monitoring traffic in the area, Wiles said.
Daniel Borunda may be reached at 546-6102; firstname.lastname@example.org; @BorundaDaniel on Twitter.
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