Two Southwest Border Counties Go Opposite Ways on Stonegarden Grants
By David Jaroslav | September 21, 2018
Operation Stonegarden is a grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), itself part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Stonegarden funds are specifically for state, local and tribal law-enforcement agencies in border states and meant to “[i]ncrease capability to prevent, protect against, and respond to border security issues” as well as “[i]ncrease coordination and collaboration among Federal, State, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies”.
The program allocated $55 million in grants in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 and was appropriated $85 million for FY2018. Mostly, the funds tend to be used for new equipment and for personnel overtime. Two fairly similar Southwestern border counties have recently gone in opposite directions with both their understanding and continued use of grant funds from the program.
Pima County, Arizona
Pima County is Arizona’s second-most populous county, with an estimated 2017 population of 1,022,769 according to the Census Bureau. Tucson is its county seat. The county covers an area of 9,213 square miles and shares “[a]bout 100 miles” of the U.S. border with Mexico, the most of the state’s four border counties.
Currently run by Sheriff Mark Napier (R), the Pima County Sheriff’s Office counts 1500 personnel, between approximately 500 sworn deputies and the remainder civilian employees. Arizona state law requires immigration status inquiries under some circumstances, and Napier has strived to cooperate with federal agencies. His office has been a recipient of Stonegarden grant funds for the past twelve years, and this year received over $1.4 million.
But all that changed on September 4, when by a vote of 4-1, after more than five hours of “rowdy” testimony, the county’s Board of Supervisors rejected any further funds from the program. Supervisor Steve Christy (R-Tucson) was the lone No vote, while Supervisor Ally Miller (R-Oro Valley/Marana), the board’s other Republican, was absent.
Supervisor Ramon Valadez (D-Tucson/Sahuarita), who had previously been the board’s swing vote, announced his change of mind in the emotional language of the open-borders crowd’s typical talking points, essentially casting the Stonegarden program as a stand-in for all the Trump Administration’s immigration policies: “The policy of no tolerance. The policy of separating children from their families. The policy of having no real action on DACA. The present policy that criminalizes asylum seekers. The unrelenting and misplaced faith in the border wall[.]”
Supervisor Christy responded that opponents of the grants “do not represent the total feelings or desires of Pima County residents of even come close to representing a majority of our citizens[.]” But the majority of the Board instead decided to side with radical open-borders activists like Najima Rainey of Tucson Black Lives Matter, who called Stonegarden “a bribe and an invitation to collaborate” and said ”Sheriff Napier, you won't make us collaborators”.
The sheriff had forcefully requested the Board not take such action, and afterwards issued a public response, describing it as a “politically motivated vote that will adversely impact public safety in our county” and “unthinkable.” Without the Stonegarden funds, he may now have to close several remote offices around the county and otherwise scale back operations. It appears he’ll still continue to do what he can to ensure his office works with federal authorities. But now thanks to the Board of Supervisors, it may be underequipped and understaffed for doing so.
Doña Ana County, New Mexico
Like Pima County, Doña Ana County is the second-most populous county in its state, New Mexico, though with a far smaller population estimated at 215,579. Its area is 3,804 square miles and its border with Mexico is “approximately 45 miles.” The county seat is Las Cruces.
The county’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget provided for Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil (D) to employ 159 certified deputies and 72 civilian support staff. Since 2007, its budget has been supplemented by Stonegarden grant funds.
Yet the county has also had a formal and extensive sanctuary policy since September 2014, when the Board of County Commissioners passed its “safe communities” resolution. Among other things the resolution prohibits asking about people’s immigration status and helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with any “investigation, detention or arrest … relating to alleged violations of the civil provisions of the federal immigration law[.]”
The sheriff’s office simultaneously says that they follow the sanctuary resolution and yet admits if they make criminal arrests they refer suspected illegal aliens to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). They’ve made nearly 800 such referrals since September 2015. Lieutenant Richard Drake says “[t]o dispel any rumors, we are not enforcing immigration law … We are enforcing state statutes."
Quite unlike Pima County, Doña Ana’s Board of County Commissioners seems to mostly regard this confusing if not outright contradictory policy as acceptable, so long as the money keeps coming in, since on September 12 they voted 4-1 to accept an additional $750,000 in Stonegarden funds.
Taking federal taxpayer funds from a program specifically meant to increase cooperation with federal agencies along the border should of course mean assisting with immigration enforcement. Pima County thinks so, so to be consistent they’ve rejected those funds. Dona Ana County seems to think the money doesn’t come with any particular policy attached, so they’ll keep taking it and doing whatever they want with it.