Governor’s Office reviews La Joya border security grant

The Governor’s Office is reviewing how the city of La Joya spends border security grant money.

After Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas announced that La Joya wouldn’t “house” detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Texas Department of Public Safety contacted the Governor’s Office about the news.

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Four weeks later, the Governor’s Office selected La Joya for a “programmatic desk review.”

“When I saw that, I was like ‘Maybe that’s the reason why,’” said La Joya police Chief Adolfo Arriaga. “But I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

What, exactly, triggered the review — which could be random — remains unclear.

News about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security separating migrant children from their parents prompted Salinas to make the announcement on Saturday, 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 Arriaga and City Administrator Mike Alaniz by surprise. Like everyone else, they read the news on Facebook.

It also caused confusion.

La Joya honors federal immigration detainers, which require the city to temporarily hold people who aren’t legally present in the United States, but the city never “housed” detainees on a long-term basis.

On Monday, June 25, a Department of Public Safety lieutenant contacted the Governor’s Office about the city announcement.

“I received a call from Lt. Melba Saenz, our DPS contact at the JOIC-Joint Operations and Intelligence Centers,” wrote Debbie Jacaman, a grant manager at the Governor’s Office, to her colleagues. “She’ll follow up to ensure they understand the impact on OOG grants for the PD.”

The Progress Times obtained the email under the Texas Public Information Act.

Two days later, Jacaman followed up.

“Spoke to Chief Arriaga today. The City does hold detainees for ICE before sending to Hidalgo County and does comply with the grant requirement,” Jacaman wrote on June 27. “The Mayor’s comments referred to large groups of people (30-40), which the Chief said has never happened.”

Arriaga confirmed that he spoke with Jacaman, but declined to comment further.

With just two cells, the La Joya city jail holds a maximum of six people, said former La Joya police Chief Ramon Gonzalez.

“I think from the get-go the mayor should have, maybe, gotten an opinion from the actual people who run the department,” Gonzalez said, adding that the announcement didn’t make any sense.

The Governor’s Office contacted the city again on July 25, announcing La Joya had been selected for a “programmatic desk review.”

“Please note that this is a programmatic desk review, not an audit or financial monitoring review,” according to the email from Grant Coordinator Jiewei “Jerry” Ding to city employees.

The review included a series of questions about Operation Stonegarden, a federal grant program administered by the Governor’s Office. Operation Stonegarden funding pays for local police officers to work overtime, targeting drug trafficking and migrant smuggling.

La Joya must respond by Aug. 8.

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