Arizona's Pima County would partially divert Homeland Security Grants to migrants

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Grant Program was established in 2003 to provide grants to local, state, and Federal agencies for purchases of surveillance equipment, weapons, and advanced training for the purpose of strengthening national preparedness. $1,095,000,000 was budgeted for the program in fiscal year 2019.

The smallest component of the Homeland Security Grant Program is called Operation Stonegarden, for which $90,000,000 was budgeted in fiscal year 2019. The Operation Stonegarden Program encourages increased coordination and collaboration between the U.S. Border Patrol and local, tribal, territorial, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The program funds joint efforts to secure the borders with Mexico and Canada, as well as in states and territories with international water borders.

Activists protested “collaboration” with immigration authorities

Arizona's Pima County, in which Tucson is the county seat, lies flush with the U.S. southern border. As such, they are within the intended scope of Operation Stonegarden grants. As reported by the Green Valley News, Pima County has accepted more than $12 million in Operation Stonegarden funding over the last 12 years, but they opted out in 2018. That's when the Pima County Board of Supervisors rejected the grant, at the “encouragement” of immigration activists who objected to local law enforcement “collaboration” with federal immigration officials.

The Operation Stonegarden question came before the Board of Supervisors again in May, and they managed to approve a $1.8 million grant application, on condition that about $200,000 would be diverted to humanitarian aid for migrants passing through Casa Alitas, a short-term shelter in Tucson run by Catholic Community Services. Pima County has already spent $300,000 on the shelter and they would like to use Department of Homeland Security grant money to offset those expenses.

Mission creep: Congress has allowed for Homeland Security grants to be used for humanitarian relief

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wants to justify this move by pointing to a bulletin issued in November 2018 by an administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who began to work there under the Obama administration. FEMA manages the Homeland Security Grant Program.

The bulletin points out that Congress has expanded allowable use of Homeland Security Grant Program funding to ease the burden on state, local and tribal jurisdictions along the Southwest border caused by the influx of unaccompanied alien children and alien adults accompanied by an alien minor where they are encountered after entering the United States.

On that basis, the FEMA bulletin provides the following guidance:

… recipients and subrecipients on the Southwest border may use grant funding for costs, or reimbursement of costs, related to providing humanitarian relief to unaccompanied alien children and alien adults accompanied by an alien minor where they are encountered after entering the United States …

The outlook for Pima County's request

Just because Congress has in the past authorized diversion of Homeland Security funding in this way does not mean that the Trump administration will comply with Pima County's request. Eight months have gone by since the application for the $1.8 million Operation Stonegarden grant was filed, and so far no response has been received.

The Green Valley News reports that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has sent letters to several Arizona congressional representatives and senators seeking assistance, and that the offices of Senator Kyrsten Sinema and U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick have been communicating with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

If the application is rejected, Pima County could appeal the move. They might just end up having to decide to be happy with the fact that they haven't angered their local immigration advocates.