When the La Joya City Commission met Tuesday afternoon, perhaps the most difficult decision of the day had already been made.
The meeting agenda didn’t include any mention of Operation Border Star, a state program that pays the La Joya Police Department for border security work.
La Joya applied for $108,000 through the program, according to police Chief Adolfo Arriaga. The Governor’s Office awarded the city $55,000. Commissioners must approve a resolution to accept the money.
Accepting the money, though, requires La Joya to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We may not agree with it,” said City Administrator Mike Alaniz. “But we have to comply with it.”
Uncertainty about whether or not — and, if so, to what extent — La Joya will cooperate with ICE left the Operation Border Star grant in limbo during the past few weeks.
Concerned about U.S. Customs and Border Protection separating migrant children from their mothers, Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas made a surprise announcement on June 23.
“BREAKING NEWS” Salinas posted on the city Facebook page. “EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY The CITY of La JOYA P.D. Jail/Detention Center will NOT House ICE Detainees.”
The announcement caught Alaniz and Arriaga flat-footed.
It also caused confusion.
La Joya never actually “housed” detainees for ICE. With just two jail cells, the La Joya Police Department doesn’t normally hold inmates for more than a day anyway.
“We’ve never detained them to send them to ICE,” Alaniz said. “We’re not a holding facility.”
However, the city does comply with immigration detainer requests.
La Joya normally releases people held on Class C misdemeanors, including public intoxication, theft and assault, directly from the city jail. Inmates with immigration detainers remain in custody until ICE picks them up.
Adopting a policy that prohibits the police department from complying with immigration detainers would break Texas law.
That left the announcement ambiguous.
Salinas said the announcement means the La Joya Police Department will not hold people after the underlying criminal case is completed.
If that change would stop La Joya from complying with immigration detainers remains unclear. Police haven’t been provided any guidance on the announcement and ICE still visits the city jail most days.
La Joya canceled a special meeting on June 27, when the City Commission planned to discuss a resolution authorizing Alaniz to accept the Operation Border Star grant. When the City Commission met Tuesday, the agenda didn’t include the Operation Border Star resolution.
Alaniz said he plans to meet with Arriaga and City Attorney Michael Pruneda to discuss the matter.
Afterward, they’ll take the Operation Border Star resolution back to the City Commission.
“I think we can probably get the support from the Council,” Alaniz said.