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Christy: Huckelberry's magic wand on asylum-seeker costs

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Christy: Huckelberry's magic wand on asylum-seeker costs

  • Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy
    submitted photoPima County Supervisor Steve Christy

More than $500,000 of Pima County residents' property tax dollars have spent on asylum-seeker processing. I have been asked, "How did this happen?"

After months of highly politicized and acrimonious debate, the Board of Supervisors in May of last year voted 3-2 to accept, on behalf of the Sheriff's Department, the $1.8 million fiscal year 2018 Operation Stonegarden grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Bear in mind, this was the very same grant that, up until last year, had been accepted the board's majority for 12 years. In order to gain that third vote for the grant's approval, legal conditions were created that required $200,000 of the grant to be designated for "humanitarian aid" and $334,700 be allocated to recover "indirect costs", among other non-financial conditions.

This grant's approval, with its conditions, had the support of Sheriff Mark Napier. The board received confident assurances from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry that the two financial acceptance conditions would receive federal and state approval.

Mr. Huckelberry's hopes were that the humanitarian aid would defray the costs he had unilaterally initiated with his plan of re-modeling a mothballed wing of the Juvenile Detention Center building (rebranded "Casa Alitas") and its operating expenses.

In late December, the Board of Supervisors received notification that the 2018 Operation Stonegarden grant award had been totally denied by DHS. We can only speculate why. DHS states that it "has been determined that there is no border security operational benefit derived" by funding any of the grant for humanitarian aid. Yet one has to wonder if this was the only reason for the denial. Was it due to historic bickering by the Board of Supervisors? And what effect could this history of dissention have on future grants for Pima County?

By performing a little paper trailing, we easily traced two very troubling instances in the Operation Stonegarden grant approval saga. On July 11, 2019, Huckelberry acknowledged in his letter to Arizona DHS, "…that indirect cost recovery (an original conditional $334,700) will be difficult to operationalize..." Mr. Huckelberry capitulated by stating, "Pima County will forego the indirect cost recovery of $330,347" and instead transferred it to the $200,000 condition, thus bringing the total request for humanitarian aid to $530,347. The same amounts are restated in a July 30 Huckelberry memo which notes the "requests were approved" by the curiously named Integrated Planning Team for Operation Stonegarden.

These two instances illustrate what I call the "Magic Wand Effect". In both scenarios, there was never any board approval, vote, or authorization to increase, modify, or combine the original grant's acceptance conditions, as approved by the supervisors. The grant's denial has cost Pima County taxpayers hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in expenses, and may have jeopardized future federal grants to Pima County.

With the enactment of the Migrant Protection Protocols in the Tucson Sector, the number of asylum seekers passing through Casas Alitas has dropped precipitously. Now would be an ideal time to take corrective action.

I will be submitting a measure to the board directing the county administrator to cease county taxpayer subsidization of the asylum-seeker shelter.

I will urge the board to further direct the county administrator to secure reimbursement of to-date costs via U.S. H.R. 3401 (a humanitarian financial assistance bill) for the shelter before it be allowed to continue operations. Ideally, another entity such as social or faith-based service agencies should agree to assume the shelter's operation and the associated costs.

We can debate immigration issues within Pima County. What we cannot debate is that these issues are federal matters and should be dealt with and paid for by the federal government.

Pima County should not be in the asylum-seeker processing business.

Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy represents District 4, which spans from Mt. Lemmon through Tucson’s East Side to Vail and Corona de Tucson and west to Green Valley.

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