In a move that could have national repercussions, Pima County, Arizona, became the largest southern border county to reject federal funding under Operation Stonegarden (OPSG), which requires local law enforcement agencies to collaborate with federal immigration agencies to help apprehend undocumented immigrants.
Pima County is the largest U.S. border county in area and second largest in population. On Tuesday, September 4, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to terminate the county's contract with Arizona Department of Homeland Security to receive more than $1.4 million in federal funds in 2018, primarily allocated toward overtime pay for Pima County Sheriff's Deputies to work in collaboration with U.S. Border Patrol.
As reported in the Tucson Sentinel:
The decision puts to rest months of doubt about the future of Operation Stonegarden in Pima County. In January, the supervisors hesitated to accept the grant. In February, [Supervisor Ramón] Valadez, along with [Supervisor Steve] Christy and [Supervisor Ally] Miller, voted to accept the federal money, but only with a lengthy set of conditions. This year's Stonegarden grant included $1,191,000 earmarked for overtime and mileage, and another $237,967 reserved for equipment for the sheriff's department.
Tuesday's vote marks the culmination of seven months of intensive lobbying of the Board of Supervisors and the community by hundreds of committed activists. More than 40 spoke in favor of rejecting the grant at the Tuesday meeting, which was often interrupted by applause from the audience. Activists had devoted hundreds of hours to research about the issues and to meetings with individual Supervisors.
Supervisor Valadez, a Democrat, was the swing vote. He acknowledged that he'd struggled with the decision, saying he recognized "consequences to both sides of this argument, and neither side wants to take those consequences seriously, but they're there." In the end, the argument that seemed to have the most weight for him was that collaboration between Sheriff's Deputies and Border Patrol, which is mandated by the grant contract, erodes community trust in local law enforcement to the point where residents hesitate to report crimes out of fear that they may bring Border Patrol or ICE down on themselves, their family, their friends, or their neighbors. This effect is multiplied by the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance policy.
Sheriff Napier, in the months and weeks leading up to the vote, increased his lobbying for accepting the grant. His appeals to the Board of Supervisors became more frequent after the Board learned that Napier had never suspended operations under Operation Stonegarden and had already spent more than $500,000.00 of grant money during 2018. The Supervisors had believed the funds were untouchable until they voted again to affirm that the acceptance conditions they'd imposed in February had been met. That turned out not to be the case.
As reported in the Arizona Daily Star:
[Board Chairman Richard] Elías worries that the Sheriff’s Department is hurting its credibility with the public.
"We ultimately can't control the Sheriff’s Department, but we can try to ensure that they’re acting in the best interest of everyone living here," Elías said.
And while Elías said that he doesn't believe Napier to be a bigot, he said he finds the sheriff's lack of transparency over his use of the funds to be troubling, saying that he became aware the department was using the money last week, but not from the sheriff himself, who has failed to mention that fact during months of public discussions in board meetings and with the community.
Democratic Supervisor Sharon Bronson voted with Elías and Valadez to cancel the grant. In a Sunday op-ed, she wrote:
The Stonegarden grant is managed by the U.S. Border Patrol. One of Stonegarden’s stated goals is to "enforce immigration laws." This runs counter to Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier's statement that his department should not be a proactive arm of immigration enforcement. I agree with our sheriff's statement, and that's why our deputies should not participate in a federal program whose stated goal is to proactively engage them in immigration enforcement.
Napier asserted that his department does not engage in immigration enforcement and never will. However, that's belied by the Management/Supervisor Intent portion of his own grant application from 2017, which states:
Officers deployed to the target areas will conduct "zero tolerance" traffic contacts. This aggressive deployment will result in increased contacts with people and vehicles traveling these roadways and pathways used by criminals/terrorist for illegal entry into the United States.
Let that sink in. "Zero tolerance" traffic contacts, otherwise known as pretextual traffic stops. Anything from a dirty license plate to a dinged windshield to a cracked taillight can be used as a pretext for stopping a car. At that point, the deputy determines whether there exist "reasonable grounds" for questioning the occupants' immigration status. If so, Border Patrol agents, who are never far away, are called to the scene.
In other words, the OPSG grant was a green light to troll for undocumented immigrants. That this was its effect is demonstrated by one striking statistic. During 2016, only 16% of traffic stops made by Pima County deputies under OPSG resulted in citations. Compare that to the national average of 60%. It's obvious what these "increased contacts" are being used for, and there’s a strong implication of racial profiling.
Indeed, all of Napier's talking points, which at times have included public safety, drug interdiction, and human trafficking interdiction, are nonsense. The grant language is clear. Under the heading Unallowable Costs (OPSG), it states:
OPSG funding shall not be used to supplant inherent routine patrols and law enforcement operations of activities not directly related to providing enhanced coordination between local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Removing the double negative, that language says Stonegarden funds can only be used to provide enhanced coordination between local and federal agencies. That is the only permissible use under the conditions of the grant. To use the funds any other way would be to defraud the federal government, which would be a crime.
All of Napier’s alleged targets fall under Arizona law. Enforcing them doesn't require federal coordination. The sheriff is a dissembler. He’ll have to face voters in 2020, and he’s likely to face increased resistance to his policies from the Board until then.
Kudos to the activist community in Tucson for helping to bring about this result. Organizations committed to the effort include People's Defense Initiative, Free the Children Coalition, Chukson/Tucson Water Protectors, Justice Alliance: Indivisible Southern Arizona, LUPE Tucson, Southern Arizona Sanctuary Coalition, YWCA Arizona - STAT-Stand Together Arizona Training & Advocacy, Democratic Socialists of America - Tucson, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, and Jewish Voice for Peace.