Emails from Sheriff Chuck Jenkins’ visit to the Texas border reveal his concern about media coverage of the trip and his frustration with public criticism of it.
Jenkins traveled with other sheriffs from across the country to McAllen, Texas, July 16 and 17 to get a firsthand look at the immigration crisis.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform funded the trip and paid $1,300 for Jenkins to go, according to a budget spreadsheet from the organization.
The Frederick News-Post received emails from Jenkins’ county address from July 17 through July 21 through a Public Information Act request. Emails related to ongoing investigations and personnel matters were redacted.
During that time, he received or sent about 140 communications that were not withheld, nine of which were related to the public perception of the trip.
Jenkins expressed concern about a News-Post article stating that the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled FAIR a hate group. It unfairly associated him with the anti-illegal immigration organization, he said.
“I feel like my trip was misrepresented from the start,” he said in an interview.
Jenkins wrote an email to the News-Post reporter covering the trip saying he would not be speaking with her because he believed the paper’s coverage was biased.
Jenkins forwarded that email to several others who he said shared his concerns about what he perceived as biased reporting.
Former sheriff’s office spokeswoman Lt. Jennifer Bailey wrote that she would have done the same in similar circumstances.
However, News-Post managing editor Terry Headlee said he believed the coverage was fair.
“When a local sheriff takes a fact-finding mission to Texas to look at the border crisis, then it becomes a news story,” he wrote. “And when the trip is funded by an organization that has been described as a ‘hate group,’ then that also becomes a news story and isn’t something that we can, or should, hide from readers.”
The paper presented arguments for and against the assertion that FAIR is a hate group, Headlee said, and it offered the sheriff an opportunity to talk about it when he returned. Jenkins declined the offer.
Jenkins also appeared concerned about how his political opponents — Democrat Karl Bickel and fellow Republican Kevin Grubb — would respond to the trip.
Farrell Keough, of Urbana, forwarded him a letter for publication in support of his immigration law enforcement and criticizing media outlets that questioned him going to Texas.
“Very good letter, thanks,” Jenkins wrote in an email response. “I’m sure Bickel (brain in a jar) will have a response. By the way, did you see Grubb’s Facebook. He should just crawl away.”
The Facebook page Kevin Grubb for Sheriff made several posts critical of Jenkins’ trip.
Bickel, running against Jenkins for sheriff, responded in an interview that he stands by his criticism, adding that Jenkins should be more concerned about heroin coming from Baltimore than across the Mexican border.
“It was a political stunt that seems to have backfired,” he said.
Grubb could not be reached for comment.
A handful of emails dealt explicitly with Jenkins’ observations and thoughts on the immigration crisis, and he received several notes in support of his trip. He described it generally as a learning experience.
Jenkins did offer some details of his experience in an email to David Benjamin, chief deputy.
“Just came off the river patrol gunboats. Awesome display of firepower, fully armed, 900 hp, 34 Yellow Fin patrol river craft. Look for a grant, we need one!” he wrote.
The grant comment was a joke, Jenkins said later, adding the sheriff’s office did not need any new equipment or training to enforce immigration law.
He sent photos of himself on the boat as a keepsake.
The emails show the sheriff was not in contact with the Board of County Commissioners during his fact-finding mission. Jenkins also said he did not reach out to them by text message. However, he did meet with the board when he returned to make a report.
The messages also show that he had limited contact with FAIR during the trip, apart from National Field Director Susan Tully, who was with the sheriffs in Texas.
Tully emailed all of the sheriffs involved with trip July 21 to ask what sort of contact they had with the media about the event.
FAIR also sent a study from the El Paso Intelligence Center on why so many minors were immigrating illegally.
The News-Post requested text messages from Jenkins’ official cellphone, but they were not included in the response to the paper’s Public Information Act request because the sheriff deletes messages when he has read them.
Jenkins said there is no office policy regarding message retention.
The sheriff’s office is working with Verizon to see if it can retrieve the messages, Bailey said.
Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.