Bronson: Stonegarden is a costly & failed federal policy
County supervisor on why she voted against accepting border grant
Accepting the federal government’s Operation Stonegarden grant is a very difficult policy decision. It has been accepted by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in the past, but recently, with more vigorous public debate and opposition, the Department of Homeland Security has failed to change the administration of the grant nor adapted it to current border conditions.
The new federal Migrant Protection Protocol, or as it’s rightly pejoratively called – the “Wait in Mexico” program – will force people who previously could legally cross the border seeking asylum to consider crossing the border illegally and making the dangerous trek through the desert.
This change in border enforcement policy and tactics was the primary and compelling reason I was ready at Feb. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting to approve accepting the 2018 Stonegarden grant, albeit with conditions.
In the last few years, we have seen increasing peaceful surrenders at the border for individuals seeking asylum in the United States. Those individuals have been treated humanely and afforded legal counsel – bedrock principles of our country and our county.
I believe the MPP will do nothing more than cause legal asylum seekers to be forced to return to the old dangerous smuggling routes to be victimized by drug cartels and those who profit from human smuggling. History tells us what will be the outcome of this – more deaths in the desert. Between 2010 and 2019, the remains of over 1,500 undocumented border-crossers were recovered solely in my district.
The implementation of MPP now makes it even more imperative that more law enforcement is present in the western deserts of Pima County not only for interdiction of human and drug smuggling, but, more importantly, for rescue and the provision of lifesaving aid.
I agreed with the nine conditions set by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in his Jan. 16 memorandum recommending approval of OPSG. However, I wanted a few more conditions added if our law enforcement officials were to work in conjunction with federal agencies on border protection.
First, the sheriff must commit (which he did at the meeting) to better data capture from the daily activity reports completed by the department as part of OPSG.
Second, this is a 2018 grant. If the grant is accepted, all utilization must end on June 30, 2020. This at least confines those expenditures to our normal fiscal year.
Third, the county must receive the maximum amount of indirect expense reimbursement allowable under OPSG. The county has so far received the bureaucratic runaround by state and federal agencies. In my view, full cost recovery is a mandatory condition to accepting this grant. Local taxpayers do not need to subsidize the federal government.
Finally, the board should ask the state’s congressional delegation to overhaul OPSG. Doing so will save federal and local taxpayers money. A simple solution as well as cost savings for both federal and local taxpayers is available by shifting reimbursement from overtime to straight-time hours.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board didn’t accept my additional conditions. Without those conditions, I was unwilling to approve accepting a grant that fails to provide us the data we need to ensure the protections of civil liberties and that ends up costing the county more money than it provides.
Stonegarden is not how this country is going to solve the issues associated with illegal border activity. For that, we need better immigration and drug enforcement policies. But simple reforms of OPSG would go a long way in helping local border-area governments protect the public and recoup the costs of the federal government’s border policies.
Despite the board’s vote, I hold out hope that OPSG will be reformed and a better, more reasonable and fairer grant program can be presented to the board for consideration in the future.
Sharon Bronson represents District 3 on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.