County board votes to reject $1.4 million in federal funding for border

Decision on Operation Stonegarden

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to terminate its federal gr ant from Operation Stonegarden, which has provided millions of dollars to the county sheriff's department to assist in border enforcement.

The county ended its relationship with the federal program over immigration issues.

The swing vote was provided by District 2 Supervisor Ramone Valadez, who left no question as to why he voted against the gr ant.

"Until we have an administration that has a better perspective or realistic approach to our immigration issue, I'm not going to be able to support that," he said.

He listed a litany of charges against the administration policy which he believes needs to be addressed.

Separation of families at the border, no tolerance policy, criminalizing asylum seekers, no policy on DACA and misplaced faith in the border wall were all reasons he cited for his vote.

The vote came after five hours of listening to members of the general public, community activists and supporters of Stonegarden make their pitch.

The emotion poured from the audience, which filled the chambers, cheered, gave standing ovations, or let out a chorus of boos causing the chair Richard Elias to ask for courtesy to the opposing sides.

"It's a two-way street here," he admonished the speakers. "It's part of keeping good order and being respectful of each other."

For Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, losing the grant was a blow since about half the money was already spent. He's unsure what the future holds

"Now that we're no longer part of the program, the federal government can come at me and say they want that equipment back," he said. "Which could be helicopter parts and this we just don't know yet."

Although Elias thought the board would make the department whole again. "We'll work on that," he said.

But for Napier, it's also the loss of the ability to patrol in remote areas. He was using the money not only for equipment, but to pay overtime for officers to patrol remote areas near the border since staffing is short in those areas.

"I've got to figure out how to provide that same level of public service to people recognizing the threats at the international border, which are real threats to public safety," he said.

Napier is also working with the ACLU to find counter charges that receiving the money ties him to the border patrol and to enforcing immigration laws which is prohibited. Immigration is a federal responsibility.

Elias says that's the point in eliminating the grant.

"I think we made a statement that local officials, local law enforcement needs to be about enforcing local laws and take care of the population here," he said.

Republican Ally Miller was absent.

The only vote to retain the grant came from District 4 Board Member Steve Christy who said Sheriff Napier will not enforce immigration laws.

He criticized those who criticized Operation Stonegarden by saying those who hurled insults at law enforcement "were deplorable" and those who did "were politically grandstanding at the worst and showing sheer melodrama at best."

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