Impact of Operation Stonegarden on local law enforcement in the RGV

Local News

Impact of Operation Stonegarden on local law enforcement (Source: KGBT Photo)

Questions surround Operation Stonegarden, a federally funded grant that involves the collaboration of federal, state and local law enforcement in an effort to secure the border.

Sullivan City Police is one of the departments awarded a grant for the Operation Stonegarden Program where funds from it pay for officers overtime.

According to Sullivan City Police Chief Richard Ozuna, the goal of the program is to enhance enforcement and patrol the main corridors that lead in and out from U.S. to Mexico, along with enforcing state laws.

“What we’re trying to prevent is the criminal element from coming across whether it’s terrorism, smuggling, narcotics or anybody that will do something illegal anywhere in the U.S. that may affect our community.”

According to Bryan Johnson, an attorney in New York who works cases involving Central American immigrants who crossed the border illegally through South Texas, said although it’s a federally funded grant, there are still some limitations under Senate Bill 4.

“The only way that local law enforcement can enforce the immigration law or inquire about immigration status is if the person who is lawfully detained is under investigation or suspicion or criminal offense or other specified offenses,” said Johnson.

Ozuna adds that there are situations where U.S. Customs and Border Protection requests for their assistance.

“Maybe they have large groups and for officers’ safety we will help and just stand guard, just make sure that everything is peaceful and nobody gets hurt,” said Ozuna.

If the law is not followed, Johnson said it could lead to serious consequences, including the backlash of immigration enforcement like the deportation of individuals.

“When the local law enforcement are making the arrest, they’re doing the question where are you from, are you here illegally, that information was obtained and it was obtained illegally,” said Johnson. “The initial detention was not lawful so immigration lawyers in court could argue that the federal government can’t use the information about where they’re from and they can dismiss court proceedings.”

Johnson adds that it could also lead to being sued by immigrants for unlawful arrests.

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