La Joya delays decision on Operation Border Star grant

The La Joya City Commission left Operation Border Star in limbo Monday.

After meeting in executive session, the City Commission tabled a resolution authorizing City Manager Mike Alaniz to accept the border security grant.

lajoyalogonewAsked why the City Commission didn’t make a decision, Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and police Chief Adolfo Arriaga referred requests for comment to City Attorney Michael Pruneda.

“As you know, there was no public discussion on the resolution,” Pruneda said in a statement. “As a result, I cannot discuss any deliberation that occurred in the closed session as it is attorney-client privileged.”

La Joya requested $108,000 through Operation Border Star, a state border security program. The Governor’s Office awarded the city $55,000.

Before accepting the money, La Joya must promise to comply with immigration detainers issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

La Joya must submit a statement promising to “1) notify DHS of all information requested by DHS related to illegal aliens in the custody of the Grantee; and (2) detain such aliens in accordance with requests by DHS,” according to the Governor’s Office.

That may conflict with an announcement Salinas made 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.”

La Joya, though, never actually housed people for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The city jail consists of just two cells. Inmates typically spend less than 24 hours at the city jail before they’re transferred to Hidalgo County or released.
However, the city does comply with federal immigration detainers. Adopting a policy that prohibited La Joya police from complying with immigration detainers would violate Texas law.

Former police Chief Ramon Gonzalez said he didn’t think Salinas understood the difference.

“Honestly, I laughed when I read that statement,” said Gonzalez, who spent 11 years with the department before the city fired him in December. “I was like ‘He doesn’t know what he just said.’”

Former police Chief Isidro Casanova agreed.

“When I heard about it, I was like ‘What are you doing?’” said Casanova, who spent five years with the department before serving on the City Commission. “You just don’t go off and make a decision like that based on personal feelings without thinking it through.”

Casanova, who unsuccessfully challenged Salinas during the November 2015 mayoral election, said he thought La Joya would attempt to find a way for the mayor to save face.

The city can’t afford to reject border security grant money, Casanova said, adding that the program pays for police overtime.

Along with preventing the city from accepting new border security grants, the announcement may also prompt state and federal review of past grant spending. La Joya could be asked to repay any money spent improperly, said Gus Acevedo, a municipal attorney who represents Palmview and Elsa.

“It just seems to me that if you don’t follow the rules and regulations and procedures as it pertains to the grant, you risk forfeiting the grant,” Acevedo said. “And having to repay funds you’ve already received.”

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