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D.A. County accepts Stonegarden grant, insists it is ‘not enforcing immigration law’

Doña Ana County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to accept money from Operation Stonegarden, despite reservations about enforcement of immigration law.

“To dispel any rumors, we are not enforcing immigration law,” Lieutenant Richard Drake told commissioners on Wednesday. “We are not going to people’s houses and knocking on their doors. We are enforcing state statutes.”

Operation Stonegarden is a $55 million Homeland Security grant, supporting the cooperation of The United States Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection with “local, tribal, territorial, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies” around the country.

Tuesday, Doña Ana County accepted a $750,000 grant.

“The general public perception is that this is going to be used by the county to compliment enforcement activity along the border that will inevitably include immigration,” said Commissioner Billy Garrett, who represents district one. “It’s just too hard not to separate that out.”

“Here you are, discussing taking money to send our deputies to do the federal government’s job,” said county resident Lucas Herndon.

The grant funds overtime pay — outside of a deputy’s normal 40-hour workweek — to patrol areas close to the border. The department also relies on the money to purchase equipment. Since 2007, the county has accepted millions of dollars in Stonegarden funds.

An ABC-7 investigation from May found that from September 2015 to April 2018, the sheriff’s office referred more than 760 undocumented immigrants to Customs and Border Protection. According to the department, if an undocumented immigrant does not commit a crime, he or she will not be apprehended.

“This funding was not used to round up illegal immigrants,” said former Sheriff Todd Garrison. “As local law enforcement officers, we have no idea who’s here legally or not.”

“It has never had a clear mission,” said Kim Stewart, who is running against Garrison for sheriff. “Hence, you have individuals such as we’ve heard today, both pointing out things that have been done with it, accurately. Others have been jumping to conclusions.”

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