BY MIKE COOK
Las Cruces Bulletin
LAS CRUCES – Las Cruces City Council held an emotional discussion about a federal border security grant at its Feb. 11 work session.
“It’s blood money, we don’t need it,” Councilor Yvonne Flores said about the Stonegarden grant the city receives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that “supports enhanced cooperation and coordination” among Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies along U.S. borders, according to www.fema.gov.
The council approved a $36,165 Stonegarden grant last March that the city has used primarily to pay overtime, Police Chief Patrick Gallagher said at the work session. The funds do not pay for enforcement of federal immigration laws because city ordinance prohibits the police department from doing so, he said.
“It isn’t that our police department is doing anything wrong,” Flores said. “It’s about the institutionalizing of the persecution of people. You’re not enforcing any law. You’re snitching on suspicious behavior.”
Flores said she and another person were pulled over by the Border Patrol near San Diego in 1971 “because we looked like two little Mexican immigrants. It hasn’t gotten better,” Flores said. “It’s gotten worse.”
Las Cruces police officers “put their lives on the line every day” and the city should “give them every ounce of support we can.” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said.
The mayor said he was mistakenly detained at age 16 by police officers who suspected he might have been involved in a nearby robbery, and said his father, a Japanese immigrant, was placed in an internment camp during World War II. Stonegarden, he said, is about sharing intelligence.
“It’s called teamwork,” he said. “You can’t expect one agency to do it all on their own.”
Councilor Gabe Vasquez said he has concerns about Stonegarden’s accountability. A lot of fear was generated because of the grant several years ago in Chaparral, Vasquez said, where Otero County Sheriff’s deputies, with Stonegarden funding, were “looking out for immigration status instead of safety.” Las Cruces, Vasquez said, “can replace the funding that we get from Stonegarden.”
Gallagher said the Stonegarden grant has netted LCPD about $500,000 in the past 10 years, funding since 2015 nearly 3,000 hours of police officer work time that resulted in 3,236 traffic stops, 149 misdemeanor arrests, 27 felony arrests, 1,360 citations, 33 drug seizures and 460 officer assists, and has paid for three vehicles. During that time, Gallagher said, LCPD made three referrals to customs and Border Patrol agents.
Mike Cook may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.