Abdel Jimenez

Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018

Debate in Pima County continue over federal fund for border patrolling

Tucson – Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier has to try and find the funds now to sustain additional deputy border patrol activities, after an already in use federal grant generated strong backlash from residents and a vote that ultimately got it killed by county supervisors.

“Politics and public safety should not intersect one another,” Sheriff Napier said, referring to the public debate surrounding the funds.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors terminated the $1.4 million grant on Sept. 4 . The grant, also known as Operation Stonegarden , had been previously approved over the last decade to cover expenses such as overtime pay, mileage and equipment.

However, the use of these federal funds sparked criticism from residents who claimed they were being used to separate families at the border while also blurring the lines between state and federal law enforcement.

Napier said he may have to rely on taxpayer money now to cover the same costs the grant was taking care of.

“I’d so much rather spend the money the government was nearly begging me to take to add public safety to my county than have that on the back of the taxpayers,” he said.

His department has already used more than $500,000 of that grant and while those funds don’t have to be repaid back to the federal government, the sheriff added the department still needs the rest of the money to purchase things such as costly aircraft parts and pay for police officers’ overtime.

The U.S.-Mexico border between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elias voted against the grant.

He said he worried it was being used for activities related to family separations and the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

When asked how the board is helping cover some of sheriff’s department costs, Elias said he’s open to other options. “I’d be willing to entertain a request from the Sheriff’s office if they need that equipment,” he said. “I think our sheriffs should be protecting our streets and protecting Pima County residents as opposed to doing immigration enforcement.”

Sheriff Napier said that was not the case, adding his officers do not “have federal immigration enforcement power period. We can’t even do it if we wanted to do it because my deputies aren’t cross certified.”

Despite losing this grant, Sheriff Napier emphasized his department will continue to focus on providing safety and security near the Arizona-Mexico border aside from the political back and forth.

“We need to separate all this rhetoric and all this heated language and all this divisiveness and really look at this in a realistic and pragmatic view. This is about public safety, national security and human rights.”

All activities related to Operation Stonegarden are set to cease within the next two weeks.

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