CAMERON COUNTY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Cameron County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney, and Border Patrol came together for a press conference regarding the border security program, Operation Stone Garden.
Officials said more help is needed along the Rio Grande in Cameron County and announced changes to the program.
“When decisions are made in DC to do or not do, or to arrest or not detail, you see what is happening here, these gentlemen in green cannot protect Cameron County as they want to,” said Luis V. Saenz, Cameron County District Attorney. “They cannot remain on the river levee as they want to, because they have to go do paperwork.”
Saenz expressed his frustration and said U.S. Border Patrol agents are tied up with processing paperwork away from securing borders.
“Being a border county, crimes of drug trafficking, human smuggling, and extortion, among others are more prevalent and because of this it’s imperative that we have strong working relationships and partnerships with U.S. Border Patrol, the district attorney’s office and all other local law enforcement agencies,” Eric Garza, Cameron County Sheriff, said.
Operation Stone Garden has been in place, in the Valley, since 2006, but Cameron County made the decision to join forces with local police departments to help at the border, regardless of jurisdiction.
The program is intended to increase law enforcement presence in areas of the U.S. – Mexico Borders to enforce state law, not federal immigration laws.
“Sheriff Garza has authorized for them to expand the jurisdiction if you will and come over to the border and work the border with us,” said Joel Martinez, acting chief for U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley sector.
Martinez explained some of the agencies involved are Los Fresnos, La Feria, Primera, and others.
“I want to also point out and let those municipalities know that it will not affect their coverage from their police departments at all, they will still be there in their regular shifts on their regular basis, the only thing is now when they work overtime, they will be working down on the border,” he said.
The overtime pay for the officers is not paid through county funds, but through a $19.6 million dollar Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for Operation Stone Garden.
The Brownsville Police Department is one of the agencies that participate in the program.
“Our main purpose is to deter crime in that specific area. It could be anywhere from three days to a week to two weeks. It just depends on the guidelines and everything that is set between the department and border patrol,” said Martin Sandoval, Brownsville Police public information officer.
Sandoval said Brownsville police will stay in their jurisdiction for now, as their priority is keeping the city safe, but may consider patrolling other areas in the future.
According to Garza, the agreement for Operation Stone Garden is in place until any participating department decides to stop being part of it.
Martinez said participating patrol units can be identified along the borders by vehicle decals that show the unit is on Operation Stone Garden duty.