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Dona Ana commmsioners vote to continue to reapply for Operation Stone Garden grant

Dona ana county commissioners decided to continue accepting funds from what some call a controversial federal grant.

The Dona Ana county sheriffs department uses thre grant money — they say for border security but others disagree saying deputies are targeting illegal immigrants.

The grant is called Operation Stone Garden.

It was created in 2009 to help border communities with border protection.

In 2016 the Dona Ana county sheriff’s department received a little more than $700,000 to enhance border security through the Operation Stone Garden grant.

But a recent report showed that from 2015 to 2018 the sheriff’s office referred more than 750 undocumented immigrants to customs and border protection.

Some say the grant encourages the sheriff’s department to do the Border Patrols job, and the duties can cross a fine line between safety and racial profiling.

Immigrant advocates like Johana Bencomo representing Communities in Action and Faith or CAFE urged the county commissioners not to go forward with reapplying for the grant.

“I think that county commissioners are putting blind trust in a department that doesn’t deserve it and a department that has clearly not been transparent with the work that they are doing,” Bencomo said.

A emotional Dona Ana county sheriff Kiki vigil spoke to commissioners as to why the grant is necessary for the safety of the community.

“I am perplexed as to why this is becoming an issue now that I am sheriff. This grant was not designated to target the immigrant community. I myself … I migrated from Mexico. How dare some of you all say that I’m racist. My family migrated to this country too. It’s writhing the own party. Some of you have a political agenda and you know who you are. When our deputies are participating agencies are working this operation in a collaborative effort not independently. These operations primarily work in strategic locations and target career criminals and organized crime. Those who were detained in these operations were so detained under reasonable suspicion. CB customs and border protection has limited powers they observe violations of state statues. The local state agencies have authority to take enforcement action to make these arrests. The federal authorities have certain thresholds before they consider prosecution. In many of these instances the state and local agencies will be referred. Some of these cases in the state can prosecute. I can understand the concerns reviewing the reports admitted to CBP with respect to receiving gun funding from FEMA. Their reports in fact do reflect that they assisted in the apprehension in many cases that these individuals were identified as undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately this does not provide a bigger picture of what actually transpired. The reports or documentation provided by CP to DASO does have terminology that gives appearance that these apprehensions were referrals made by the arresting agencies. The reality is these were joint operations that deputies at the scene were present with CBP. However the deputy did it make the actual arrest or contact. I have been assured by my command staff that the department is not profiling or asking immigration status on traffic stops. If any persons are arrested for diving while intoxicated or committed in violation of state statuettes they are taken to a detention center for booking. I don’t over see the detention center and cannot provide the numbers of whom the undocumented immigrants in many cases were turned over by CBP. I will look into these reports and work together with county legal management to develop possible changes in reporting and to maintain policies that are consistent with best practices,” Vigil said>

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