Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins is defending his trip to the U.S.-Mexico border last week, in the wake of accusations that it was a waste of time and inappropriate given its funding by a group that has been labeled a hate group.
Jenkins told News4's Mark Segraves he had wanted to see for himself the magnitude of the immigration problem, which he says affects public safety in our area.
"We're only a few days from the border, so the transnational gang members are coming across our borders, the drugs are coming through our borders," he said. "They're in Frederick. They're in every community."
He said the plight of the undocumented children crossing the border touches him personally, too.
"I'm a father. I'm a human being. I see the struggles, I see the strife they're running away from," he said.
Jenkins said the humanitarian thing to do is to send back thousands of undocumented immigrant children to their home countries. "The most fair, uncruel way to deal with this issue is to return these kids to their families," Jenkins said.
Jenkins has come under fire over who paid for his trip: A D.C.-based group called Federation for American Immigration Reform. The organization has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, for its leaders' past racist remarks, anti-immigrant activities and links to white supremacy and eugenics.
Jenkins dismissed those concerns. "The fact they funded the trip has nothing to do with our mission," Jenkins said. "There was no agenda. We weren't told what to see, what to think, what to bring back."
But Karl Bickel, Jenkins' opponent in the upcoming election, called the decision to spend several days on the border was an inappropriate one.
"I don't think it was a responsible thing to do," said Bickel, the Democratic nominee for Frederick County sheriff, noting the challenges law enforcement faces here at home — including a growing heroin problem. "I don't think there was anything to be gained that is going to be useful here in Frederick County."
A recent poll from the Frederick News-Post found that most respondents agreed, with more than 55 percent of them saying they thought Jenkins' trip was a waste of time.
Jenkins admitted that the flood of children across the border does pose a serious crisis.
"It's a tremendous challenge," he said. "My fear is that they can't do it without a full military deployment, without changes in law and policy."