New spot

Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for Catholic Community Services, talks to the media in July during a tour of the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center, which later became a haven for asylum seekers.

Federal officials have remained quiet on whether Pima County will get a $1.8 million Operation Stonegarden grant it applied for eight months ago, even as the county racks up $300,000 in humanitarian aid for asylum seekers it had expected would be covered. 

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry sent letters to several Arizona congressional representatives and senators Nov. 13 seeking assistance in getting answers on the grant. The offices of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, have been communicating with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the county's behalf, according to spokespersons from their offices. 

Huckelberry told the Green Valley News on Tuesday that DHS and CBP have not communicated with Pima County since Sinema and Kirkpatrick intervened.

On Nov. 25, Sinema's office confirmed she is continuing to work with CBP to provide Pima County answers.

Kirkpatrick sent a letter to CBP Tucson Sector Chief Roy Villareal on July 19, stating her support for the humanitarian aid component. However, the fate of the funding is now in the hands of federal authorities in Washington, D.C. Kirkpatrick sent a second letter to Assistant Chief Maurice Gill in Washington on Oct. 22,  asking for a response to Pima County's application by Nov. 1. Kirkpatrick spokesperson Abigail O'Brien said CBP hasn't formally responded. 

CBP didn't return multiple requests from Green Valley News for comment.

Huckelberry said there hasn't been an official denial of the Stonegarden grant but if it comes, "We'll look at an appeal process."

Pima County believes the grant, which provides overtime and equipment funding for the Sheriff's Department and encourages cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement, also allows for spending on humanitarian aid. 

O'Brien said Kirkpatrick would continue to support the county's efforts to receive Stonegarden funding that includes humanitarian aid should federal authorities deny the grant.

"If a rejection is announced, our office plans to coordinate and work in tandem with the county on possible next steps," she said.

Stonegarden history

Pima County has accepted more than $12 million in Stonegarden funding over the last 12 years but reversed course in 2018. That's when supervisors rejected the grant at the encouragement of immigration activist groups that objected to local law enforcement collaboration with federal immigration officials.

Stonegarden came before the supervisors again in May, and they eventually approved a $1.8 million application, part of which would go toward humanitarian aid to help support asylum seekers coming through the Casa Alitas shelter in Tucson.

The humanitarian aid was critical to getting the third vote needed to get the grant approved, with Democrat Sharon Bronson switching sides to join Republican Supervisors Steve Christy and Ally Miller.

Huckelberry said the there is a provision, FEMA Grant Programs Directorate Information Bulletin No. 463, that allows for a portion of Stonegarden money to go to humanitarian aid.

The county planned to use about $200,000 of the grant to reimburse their costs at Casa Alitas, he said. The county has also been applying for other grants to help fund humanitarian efforts, Huckelberry said.

'Up in the air'

Huckelberry said any attempt to resubmit the application without the humanitarian aid component might not fly with the majority of supervisors.

"The current board basically said that humanitarian aid is conditioned on a 3-2 approval," Huckelberry said. "So any board member can try and put it back on without (humanitarian aid) to see if it'd pass. I doubt if it would."

In early November, Huckelberry told the Green Valley News the shelter has already cost the county about $300,000. Catholic Community Service's Casa Alitas program began operations in August and assists 150 to 300 asylum seekers per week in an unused part of a county juvenile detention site in Tucson. 

Huckelberry said he doesn't expect the county to stop assisting asylum seekers should federal authorities deny the grant request.

Casa Alitas provides temporary food, travel assistance and shelter to asylum seekers, averaging a few days, as they arrange to meet with family and sponsors across the United States. Without Casa Alitas, Huckelberry said the alternative would be for immigration authorities to go back to releasing asylum seekers into the community without any resources.

Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier expressed misgivings about the county's decision to include humanitarian aid in its application during the Green Valley Council's Board of Representatives meeting Nov. 21.

"Stonegarden is still up in the air," he told the crowd. "Right now, I'm not sure that they're going to approve the latest version that the county Board of Supervisors had proposed, but I'm still working very hard on that."

Napier aid he's been working contacts in Washington, D.C., to get the funding for overtime and equipment the department needs.

"It's been hard with Washington, D.C., because generally when somebody tries to give you $2 million of free money, do you know what you say — thank you," he said. "We didn't do that very well. We made it a lot harder than we should have."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

Load comments