With grant gone, Pima County sheriff hints he’ll need local dollars for border efforts

Border Patrol agents and other law-enforcement officers talk at an immigration checkpoint in southern Arizona. (Photo by Nicole Neri/Cronkite News)

TUCSON – Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier says he now may have to use county taxpayer dollars to sustain additional border-patrol activities by deputies after a federal grant used for that purpose was killed by county supervisors in the wake of public outcry.

“Politics and public safety should not intersect one another,” Napier said this week, referring to the debate over the grant.

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

However, some county residents objected, alleging that the money was being used to separate families at the border, and it blurred the lines between state and federal law enforcement.

Napier said he may have to rely on taxpayer money now to cover the costs the grant had paid for.

“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,” the sheriff said.

His department has used more than $500,000 of that grant, and although those funds don’t have to be repaid, the department still needs funding for such things as costly aircraft parts and overtime.

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

Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elias, said he voted to end the grant because he worried it was being used for separations and deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Asked how the board is helping cover some of the sheriff’s department costs, Elias said he’s open to suggestions.

“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.”

Napier said that was not the case, adding his deputies 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, Napier emphasized his department will continue to focus on security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“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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