If the city of La Joya rejects border security funding, donors may cover police overtime costs.
Officers at the La Joya Police Department, who earn just $14.50 per hour, depend on border security funding for overtime.
Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, though, recently became concerned the grant programs — Operation Stonegarden and Operation Border Star, which awarded the city $55,000 apiece during the current funding cycles — require La Joya to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The La Joya City Commission attempted to solve the conundrum Aug. 3, when members authorized City Attorney Michael Pruneda to create a local government corporation.
“We did have some individuals — private individuals — that want to donate money to this corporation so we can make up the $55,000,” Salinas said. “If we refuse the grant, they’re willing to match that money and maybe more.”
La Joya participated in Operation Stonegarden and Operation Border Star for years.
Administered by the Governor’s Office, the programs pay for local police to target drug traffickers and migrant smugglers. Both programs require La Joya to comply with federal immigration detainers.
Salinas became concerned about that requirement after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security started separating migrant children from their parents. He took a stand 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 police Chief Adolfo Arriaga and City Administrator Mike Alaniz flat-footed.
What, exactly, the Facebook post meant 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. However, the city never housed detainees on a long-term basis.
The City Commission tabled a resolution to accept Operation Border Star funding, leaving the grant in limbo.
Salinas said he discussed options with Pruneda and they settled on a local government corporation.
“I named it the ‘Greater Western Hidalgo County Local Government Corporation’ because I don’t think the purpose is to limit it just to our city limits. La Joya, I would think, is the leader of the west, and you all want to be able to contract with other cities that surround you, as well as the county and other organizations,” Pruneda said.
After accepting donations, the corporation could negotiate a contract with the city to pay for police overtime.
“The law allows this entity to contract with any government entity or private entity,” Pruneda said. “So it can receive monies from anywhere. It can apply for grants. It can aid the city by receiving private funds.”
The City Commission appointed a three-member board to manage the corporation.
City Commissioner Anna Lisa Ruiz, Public Works Director Elizandro de la Rosa and city public relations consultant Sylvia Garces Valdez will form the initial board of directors.
“So it is in the best interest of the city to have this corporation,” Salinas said. “And if we do pay this overtime to our police officers, it’s going to be governed by us.”