LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - For the first time, the Las Cruces City Council has turned down money from "Operation Stonegarden," which promotes the cooperation of local police with the United States Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.
"The Las Cruces Police Department is not in the business of enforcing immigration law," insisted Las Cruces Police Chief Patrick Gallagher.
"What if a police chief comes along or a sheriff comes along to abuse the purpose of the contract?" asked Councilwoman Yvonne Flores, who represents district 6 in Las Cruces.
"What safeguards do we have in place to prevent that?" Chief Gallagher responded. "You can get rid of the police chief."
Since 2011, the city of Las Cruces has accepted $555,000 from Operation Stonegarden to fund equipment and overtime missions.
According to the language of the Homeland Security grant, the money "funds investments in joint efforts to secure the United States borders along routes of ingress from international borders to include travel corridors in states bordering Mexico and Canada, as well as states and territories with international water borders."
However, the grant has attracted controversy in the county. From September 2015 to April 2018, an ABC-7 report found that the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office referred more than 760 undocumented immigrants to Customs and Border Protection, the documents state.
"Taking the money sends a message in a way that we are complicit with actions being taken by Border Patrol," said Lucas Herndon, who lives in the city.
Since 2015, Chief Gallagher said the police department made three information referrals to the Border Patrol, but that his officers have never referred people.
"The information is specifically and narrowly related to criminal activity, nothing to do with immigration," Gallagher said.
Councilors overwhelmingly expressed their trust in Chief Gallagher, but ultimately turned down the $48,000 grant in a vote of 5 to 2. According to the police department, the city will independently fund the repairs and maintenance of the vehicles that Gallagher said need attention.