The city of La Joya will no longer house detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at their detention facility.
The city announced the move in a Facebook post Saturday, attributing the decision to Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas.
“My position was why should the city of La Joya, or any city in the Valley, detain any ICE illegals when ICE already has cages for them?” Salinas said Sunday. “Maybe they have a better place for them than we do and, of course, we’re totally against what they’re doing; I think we should unite the families, not divide them.”
Salinas referred to the controversial move by the Trump administration to prosecute everyone who crossed into the United States without proper documentation, including those that arrived with children, under a “zero-tolerance” policy which resulted in the separation of those children from their families.
President Donald Trump later issued an executive order instructing officials to detain the families together. It remains unclear, however, how or if the already separated children will be reunited with their families.
It was the separation of families, which Salinas said he was opposed to, that inspired him to take action.
“There’s too much confusion from the president of the United States, releasing and catching and dividing people; that’s inhumane, you know, you just don’t do that; I don’t care who they are,” Salinas said.
“How are these 2,300 kids going to be able to find their mothers and fathers? They are not. What is the government going to do?”
The mayor’s decision this week means that if ICE requests that the city hold people suspected of being in the country illegally in their jail, they will not longer do so.
“Now it’s official,” he said. “Before, if they would ask the chief to detain two or three illegals, they would probably hold them until ICE would come pick them up in the morning but as of right now, we’re not going to do that.”
It is unclear if the new directive is in conflict with Senate Bill 4, the law which bans “sanctuary cities” by encouraging local police officers to ask for suspects’ immigration status during routine traffic stops and requiring police chiefs to cooperate with ICE detainer requests.
“You can say it’s a sanctuary city because we don’t ask for papers,” Salinas said. “When our police officers stop somebody for a violation, we do not ask them for papers, we ask them for a driver’s license, we ask them for a liability insurance and that’s it.”
When SB 4 was passed last year, the city of La Joya was among the first in the Rio Grande Valley to publicly oppose the bill in June 2017.
“That’s not our job,” he said. “Our job is to catch any violators within the city limits. Sometimes if the border patrol needs some help in a pursuit, of course if we have to we will assist but that’s it.”
He added that he saw no reason to do it, stating the city didn’t receive funds from the federal government for gas, manpower or overtime.
Salinas conceded the city does receive federal funds through Operation Stonegarden Program which funds joint efforts between local law enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol to secure the border.
However, Salinas said the Stonegarden funds the city received were mainly used for other purposes such as tracking down people with outstanding warrants during overtime. Those unpaid warrants have cost the city about $3 million, according to Salinas.
The mayor reiterated that his directive to the police department was in response to the latest controversy over the separation of families at the border.
“If it hadn’t been for that I would not have reacted this way,” he said, “but I’m a Mexican-American and I support my people.”