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Guest opinion

Bronson: Stonegarden collaboration with BP makes community feel less safe

The issue of the Pima County Sheriff's Department using federal grant funds from a program called Operation Stonegarden will be before the Board of Supervisors again next week and many things have led me to question the wisdom of accepting these funds. 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.

Our community is quite familiar with all the controversies associated with the heavy presence of Border Patrol in our county, from navigating the permanent road blocks to environmental damage. While Stonegarden supporters assert this is a public safety issue, when our sheriff's deputies collaborate with Border Patrol, it often has a chilling effect on safety, particularly for our Hispanic and Latino communities. A recent study found that "more than 40 percent of Latinos reported that they are less likely to contact the police if they are victims of a crime because state and local law enforcement are increasingly involved in enforcing immigration laws." Our sheriff's deputies do not need this additional baggage.

Stonegarden hurts not only people of color, but all people who live in our rural communities, including Arivaca, Sasabe and Ajo, which are in the district I represent. Deputies actively working under Stonegarden are not allowed to answer calls for local service, or patrol their local neighborhoods. Indeed, these most basic aspects of protecting community safety are strictly prohibited by the Stonegarden grant. The most important mission of the Pima County Sheriff's Department is "to work relentlessly toward making our community safe for the people of Pima County."

There is no clear and compelling data that Stonegarden makes us safer, but there is evidence that when local law enforcement collaborates with Border Patrol, our community feels less safe.

According to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, Stonegarden severely lacks accountability. There is little state or local oversight into how its funds are spent, there are no performance measures for the program, and the grant does not fully compensate Pima County taxpayers for the total costs involved. For every dollar Pima County receives from the grant, it is estimated that Pima County taxpayers are on the hook for at least an additional $2 in costs associated with incarceration, lawyers, and courts.

If the Board of Supervisors decides to renew the Stonegarden grant, I hope we continue and expand the Law Enforcement Community Partnership Commission already established by the county board. Some of the commission's objectives must be the creation of clear and specific metrics that tell us: 1) how the Pima County Sheriff's Department continues to improve community safety, 2) how Stonegarden funds are spent, separately and in conjunction with the Sheriff's Department, and 3) how the expansion of local law enforcement is tied to our community's needs, not the needs of Border Patrol or the federal government.

I understand the sheriff's position that not participating in Stonegarden will effectively cede all control and application of immigration law to federal authorities, thus diminishing local perspectives that may be more "nuanced." Why are there "nuances" in the fair and just application of law?

There are over 3,500 Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector. Border protection and immigration and customs enforcement are federal responsibilities, period. The Feds should do their job, and let local law enforcement do theirs.

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TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Sharon Bronson represents District 3 on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

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