El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles received a phone call Friday morning. It was someone from the local office for the Department of Homeland Security, and they wanted to know if some of his deputies could put in some off-duty hours at a tent city located at the Tornillo-Marcelino Serna port of entry about 20 miles east of El Paso. It’s not unusual for law enforcement officers to pickup other work when they are not on duty, but the sheriff has final say on whether or not that work is approved. The tent city is used to house migrant children who have entered the U.S. unaccompanied but Homeland Security expected more children to be directed there after being “forcibly separated from their families” according to The Washington Post. Wiles told them he would not approve off-duty for any of his deputies for that purpose.
“I told them absolutely not. I think it’s wrong. It’s not consistent with the values of the sheriff’s office.”
He added that approving the work would send a message to the El Paso community that his office supports the zero-tolerance policy that has led to the forced separation of families. He doesn’t support the policy, however, and didn’t want to do anything that indicated otherwise. Robert Horstman, president of the El Paso Sheriff’s Deputies Association, has stated that the deputies stand by the decision made by their Sheriff. Wiles sought to clarify the difference between what he was being asked to do now and the off-duty service provided by his deputies in 2016 at a Fort Bliss shelter for unaccompanied minor migrants. The purpose of that work was to protect the children, he said, while the purpose of the work they were recently asked to do is to provide support for children who were forced to leave their parents.
An Executive Order signed by President Trump Wednesday puts an end to the forced separation of children and families going forward, but it does nothing about the estimated 2,300 or so children already in detention centers. Some are suggesting that Trump intends to jail entire families for an indefinite period of time.
Sheriff Wiles is one in a growing list of law enforcement individuals who have refused to support the Trump administration in their immigration policies. Officials from Harris County, Houston, and Tucson, Texas have voiced their opposition to immigration policies they’ve called “an affront to American values,” “oppressive, inhumane, ungodly,” and more.
American, United, and Frontier airlines have also taken a stand in the controversy and asked the federal government not to use their planes to transport migrant children who have been separated from their families. They, like Sheriff Wiles, say the practice “does not align with their values.”