Commissioners Greenlight Sheriff’s Office for Grant Money
by Rene Leon
Posted on September 17, 2007
El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies were present at Commissioner’s Court on Monday morning asking for the Court’s allowance for the deputies to apply for a state grant that would bring a large amount of money to the area to reduce crime along the border.
Tony Morales, commander of the Sheriff’s Office Special Operations unit, was present before the court to ask for the commissioners’ permission to apply for a state grant worth $2.6 million for the El Paso County Border Crime Initiative, or BCI.
The program would be in effect from October 1, 2007, through September 30, 2008. Morales told the Court the funds that were available would go toward paying for more operations and the overtime pay resulting from the increased activity.
Morales told commissioners that there were several drug trafficking organizations operating along the border in the sparsely populated regions of the county and that the money is needed to curbs those operations.
“I’m telling you all that if you think you’re safe out here, you’re not,” he said. He stated that programs such as the BCI “act as a deterrent to these would-be criminals in isolated areas along the border.”
Operation Linebacker Revisited
Before the commissioners voted unanimously to allow the officers to apply for grant, they expressed their reservations about just how the money would be used.
Commissioner Veronica Escobar asked about the possibility that it may go toward funding programs such as Operation Linebacker, which drew heat from critics as many claimed that deputies were using it as an excuse to seek out immigrants who may be in the country illegally.
“How is this different from Operation Linebacker?” she asked about the BCI.
Morales explained that the BCI would be aimed at building connections with federal agencies so that if sheriff’s deputies see suspicious activity, they can pursue enforcement through federal and state action.
Assistant Chief Ralph Mitchell further defended his department’s participation in Operation Linebacker, saying that the program was used to raise the visibility of law enforcement in the county’s outlying areas. “It never was intended to look for undocumented immigrants,” he said.
Operation Linebacker was denounced by several immigration advocates because of Sheriff’s Office use of vehicle checkpoints in which some claimed they were targeted because of their citizenship status.
County Judge Anthony Cobos pointed out that the El Paso Police Department often uses vehicle checkpoints on El Paso roads to check for a driver’s license and proof of financial responsibility.
Mitchell told Cobos that sheriff’s deputies were conducting similar operations, and that if a driver did not have a license or a proof of insurance, and it was suspected that he was in the country illegally, then deputies would give that driver’s information, such as his license plate number, to the Border Patrol.
“The officer’s will think of other reasons to hold the vehicle,” he said. He noted that his office would attempt other methods to keep an unlicensed or uninsured driver off the road, in addition to issuing him a citation.
The Effect on the County’s Indigent
Commissioner Miguel Teran questioned the enforcement of state law requiring driver’s to have insurance in an area where many residents are indigent. “I think the law needs to be revised,” he said, adding that it criminalized the people who simply cannot afford insurance.
Teran further stated that if county residents were not going to be allowed to drive because they lack insurance, then measures should be taken by the county to increase access to public transportation for them. “We need to double the fleet, double the buses for a safe community,” he said.
Escobar again raised her concerns to Mitchell that the BCI would use tactics similar to Operation Linebacker. “Under what circumstances, do you contact the Border Patrol?” she asked.
Mitchell stated there were several reasons for sheriff’s deputies to refer a suspected undocumented immigrant to federal authorities, one reason being the violation of a state law.
In cases where undocumented status is suspected but no state law violation has occurred, Mitchell said deputies obtain contact information for the suspect then relay that information to Border Patrol, such as descriptions of the suspect and the direction in which he is heading.
“It is our function to know who is in the county, who is in the area we’re protecting,” Mitchell stated.
Commissioner Luis Sarinana chimed in to the debated just before the Court prepared to vote. “I think the whole thing here, in listening to Commissioner Escobar, is that we’re not against this grant, we’re against the policy,” he said, talking about any similarities the BCI may have with Operation Linebacker.
Mitchell again defended Operation Linebacker, saying that many people had a misconception about the program and its tactics, adding “when in fact on paper, it was simply extra patrols.”
* * *
Rene Leon can be contacted at email@example.com, or at 915.351.0605.
Most Viewed Stories
- Program for the Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs
- FORUM Arts and Culture: Contemporary Art (and Money) Matter
- Sex clubs and swingers in El Paso
- Police Blotter 2.12.09: Bank robber nabbed; FBI says powder sent to offices not harmful; first homicide arrest; top collision intersections; 17-year-old shot self
- ABC-7 reporter and photographer handcuffed, detained while covering I-10 wreck
- Bad Moon Rising: The Crisis in Ciudad Juarez
- Defense lawyer Gary Hill arrested on assault charge; his attorney says no weapon found
- Reyes after Obama meeting: Calls immigration reform a national security issue, disputes White House COS Emanuel's vote count
- Sunland Park, a Growing Environment
- Chico's Tacos incident sparks protest and strong words from City Hall