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ICE Raid in Coopersville is tearing apart immigrant families

November 20, 2017

Nearly 2 weeks ago, ICE agents showed up at Demeester Wood Products in Coopersville, Michigan and ended up arresting 18 people on immigration violations.

Of those arrested, 13 were Guatemalan and 5 were Mexican. This is one of the first workplace raids that have taken place in West Michigan in sometime, even though the Trump administration has made it clear that they intend to conduct workplace raids to enforcement immigration policy.

Most local news agencies reported on ICE arrests and several of those same news agencies (Fox 17, Holland Sentinel and Grand Haven Tribune) used the term “illegal” when referring to the immigrants arrested. Since at least 2013, the Associated Press has stated that using the term “illegal” when referring to immigrants is “no longer a sanctioned term.”

Who the ICE raids impact

Yesterday, while participating in a fundraising event for the Grand Rapids Rapid Response to ICE project, we heard directly from a woman who’s husband was one of the 18 arrested in the Coopersville ICE raid.

The woman from Guatemala, spoke through a translator, about how difficult it has been for her family, and especially her children, to deal with the fact that her husband was arrested by ICE agents. The mother, holding back tears, said that her children cry all the time, wondering where their father is and when they will get to see him again.

Unlike, most immigrants that are arrested by ICE agents, this woman from Guatemala said that her husband was being held in a detention facility in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. This ICE facility has been operational since 2011 and serves the growing list of ICE activities.

Some of the people arrested by ICE at the Coopersville raid are in detention in Battle Creek, but most of the 18 arrested are in Sault Ste Marie. The Guatemalan woman said that this makes it difficult to visit her husband, because of the distance they have to travel, but that there are visitation opportunities every Sunday. She also said that her husband has a court date set for December 6 and will not know til then whether or not her husband is slated to de deported.

The GR Rapid Response to ICE project is working to respond to the needs of this family. They invite people to make donations to support the family, which include daily needs, transportation to visit the father and an effort to raise bond money so he can spend more time with his family before his court date.

People can donate online at this link paypal.me/arcarpenter or message the GR Rapid Response to ICE project on their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/RapidResponseGR/.

The grassroots effort will be hosting another monthly training for those wanting to be directly involved in the immigrant solidarity work. Go to this link for details https://www.facebook.com/events/138147496949683/?active_tab=about.

Immigrant justice was not served by new GR City Equal Services Policy

November 16, 2017

Consequently, the violence enacted on those bodies that have been displaced by imperialist and capitalist foreign and trade policy is further enabled through the deliberate making of migrant and undocumented workers as perpetually displaceable by colonial and capitalist immigration policies. The state processes of illegalization of migrant and undocumented workers, through the denial of full legal status that forces a condition of permanent precarity, actually legalizes the trade in their bodies and labor by domestic capital. Harsha Walia – Undoing Border Imperialism

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted to exclude the GRPD from having to practice what many are referring to as an Equal Service Policy.

Beginning last December, the city and local immigration advocates had met to discuss Grand Rapids becoming a Sanctuary City.  At that meeting, it became clear that the city of Grand Rapids was unwilling to declare themselves as Sanctuary City, in part, because of fears that the federal government would withhold funding from them.

The City of Grand Rapids, was instead going the route of declaring themselves a welcoming city, which has a nice ring to it, but doesn’t provide any basic protection for those in the undocumented community.

What came out of that meeting almost a year ago was that several immigration lawyers would work with the city to create a set of policies that would not put immigrants, regardless of their status, at greater risk to arrest, detention and deportation.

Fast forward to recent months, where the Community Relations Commission had drafted an Equal Services Policy that was calling for the city to adopt a policy where no city employee, including the GRPD, would ask immigrants what their status was whenever interacting with the immigrant community. However, an attorney with the city did not want to include the GRPD in the policy draft.

Many people in the immigrant community and their allies knew that this policy crafted by the Community Relations Commission was going to be submitted to the City Commission this fall, although the immigrant community was asked to keep quiet about the policy proposal, so as to avoid having those who oppose people being in the US without documentation showing up at city commission meetings and making a scene. Those in the immigrant community decided to honor this request.

However, as the weeks went by, people in the immigrant community and their allies became impatient and began attending City Commission meetings to demand that the city adopt an Equal Services Policy, which included the GRPD. We reported on the City Commission meeting of October 10  and October 24, where immigrants and allies spoke clearly about the need to adopt this policy that especially included the GRDP.

It is worth noting at this point that the reason the immigrant community was so adamant about the GRPD being included in a policy that required police officers to NOT ask the immigration status of people they came in contact with was because the GRPD are exactly who the immigrant community fears the most in terms of interacting with city employees. This is not to say that those in the immigrant community have no fears or anxieties about interacting with a city clerk or when they come to pay their water bill. But the fact of the matter is, that those interactions are initiated by the immigrant community where they can better prepare themselves to interact with city employees. When policers pull them over or stop them in public, they have virtually no agency in those interactions. In addition, the GRPD are the only city employees they will interact with that are also heavily armed.

At the Tuesday morning GR City Commission meeting, where the proposal would be discussed, a few members of the immigrant community and their allies realized that the language of the Equal Services Policy proposal was changed.  It now reads:

A public servant, who is not a police officer, shall not inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person, while acting within the scope of public service employment and/or authority.

Included in the language of the policy, there are three ways in which city employees CAN ask immigrants their status.

  • Solicitation of information concerning immigration status where specifically required by any federal, state, or city law or program as a condition of eligibility for the service sought; or 
  • Solicitation of information or documentation concerning immigration status for the purpose of completing I-9 Forms, and, when relevant, in making hiring and payroll withholding decisions, including, but not limited to, completely I-9 Forms, questioning a person to complete the I-9 Form, obtaining documents that support the I-9 Form, and allowing federal authorities to audit an I-9 Form in accordance with law; or
  • Solicitation of information concerning immigration status for a subpoena issued in a criminal proceeding, civil litigation, or an administrative proceeding for the production of City documents or for testimony of a public servant, including where related to immigration issues or other security issues.

Many in the immigrant community and their allies are feeling betrayed by the exclusion of the GRPD from having to practice this policy. City officials and the Police Chief believe that their “impartial policing policy” is enough, which is why the GRPD was not included in the policy that was voted on yesterday.

However, immigrant organizers and some allies came to the City Commission meeting last night and voiced their opposition on the decision to exclude the GRPD from the policy. Several people only used about a minute of the designated 3 minutes and yielded the rest of their time to silence as a way of drawing attention to the large number of people in the immigrant community who are afraid to attend these kind of meetings.

Some people will articulate that the adopted city policy is a step in the right direction and reflects a certain level of progress being made. While I understand that the reasoning behind such sentiment, if this is not going to alleviate the fears of the immigrant community and will do nothing to further protect them from intimidation, then this policy is not a step in the right direction. What the immigrant community is demanding is justice, not a compromise.

This is exactly why I began the article with the statement from Harsha Walia, about the absolute need for the rest of us to have a clear understanding of why immigrants come to the US and what happens to them once they are hear. This is particularly the case with undocumented immigrants.

The other thing that I think is important for us to think about is to question the strategy of asking policy makers to create policies that are more just. What communities of color and immigrant communities can teach us all is the rich history of engaging in a politics of liberation that is NOT contingent on what the government does. If we practice a politics of liberation, then we cannot rely on governments, which most often represent and protect power, to create justice on our behalf. We have to be willing to practice a politics of liberation that is independent and autonomous of government policy and practice the kinds of relationships we want to nurture that is not sanctioned by the law.

As the great Black Liberation fighter Assata Shakur once said:

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

Acton Institute founder says they don’t believe in class struggle, they believe in class encounter

November 15, 2017

Nearly a month ago, we reported on an action that took place before the Acton Institute’s annual gala event at the DeVos Convention Center. The event featured US Secretary of Education as the keynote speaker, which is not surprising since her and her husband have contributed millions to the organization and her mother, Elisa Prince Broekhuizen, is a current member of the Acton board.

The other keynote speaker for the Acton Institute event last month, was the co-founder and Catholic Priest, Rev. Robert Sirico. Sirico naturally spoke about the mission of the organization, which is to integrate free market principles with a free and virtuous society. He spoke in theological terms and attempted to impress the audience with his use of latin, which you can see here, but I wanted to point out three points he made which are rather instructive for those who have a fundamental problem with the wedding of christianity and capitalism.

Rev. Sirico begins this commentary revealing his admiration for a “good bottle of wine” and a “good quarterly profit.” Having heard Rev. Sirico on numerous occasions, he definitely enjoys a comfortable life and has nothing but admiration for the capitalist class.

Then Sirico makes a comment about “the poor” and demonstrates his contempt for the people who were protesting outside. Rev. Sirico arrogantly states that what those protesting want to do is make more programs for the poor. This is hardly the message and themes that were addressed by those who were protesting. In fact, the primary focus was on protesting Betsy DeVos and her attempts to undermine public education. You can see from the picture here on the right, that “the poor” aren’t even mentioned.

However, there was a significant amount of anger directed at those attending the Acton Institute event, most of which are part of the capitalist class, showing up in tuxedos and evening gowns, using valet service and being escorted in by the police.

This second video again shows his contempt for those who engage in protest, even going as far as apologize to the Acton audience for being part of protest efforts some 40 years ago.

He then goes on to say that he hoped those protesting would go home depressed and that they would come to the realization that good intentions aren’t enough. “If you are concerned about the poor and want to feed the hungry, learn how to make a bakery, learn how to build a business.”

Again, Sirico demonstrates his arrogance by not even knowing why people were outside protesting. There were retired teachers participating in the demonstration, students, community organizers, bus drivers and several people who do anti-oppression work.

Then the Acton Institute co-founder uses faulty logic when arguing there is nothing wrong with educating people AND making a profit. He eventually admits that the purpose of education is to teach children, but he still clings to the idea that education should be able to be profitable. His faulty logic falls flat by then saying that people who educate children should be well compensated, which is exactly what teachers have been saying and fighting for, for years.

In this last clip from Rev. Sirico’s talk at the Acton Institute event, he tries to make to point that their organization is against class struggle and class warfare. Please, this was a room full of members of the capitalist class who are deeply committed to doing away with unions, worker protections and redirecting public funding to the private sector.

Sirico then uses lofty language, like harmony and synergy. Rev. Sirico even states that the owners of business, “depend upon the worker.” The Acton Institure co-founder that thinks he is being smart by deriding the classic book by Karl Marx, Das Kapital, going so far as to harass an airport worker for reading the book.

Rev. Sirico ends his comments by quoting Mother Theresa of Calcutta – “We don’t have the right to condemn the rich. We don’t believe in class struggle and class warfare. We believe in class encounter. Where the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.”

This quote is highly instructive, on many levels. First, if people haven’t read the book by Christopher Hitchens on Mother Theresa, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, then I highly recommend it. One example from the book that Hitchens cites, is the fact that when Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier were ruling Haiti, Mother Theresa acted as a spiritual counselor to them. During this time, Mother Theresa never once publicly spoke out against the brutal human rights violations under the Duvalier regime, using the vicious tonton macutes, as a kind of death squad to silence critics of the regime. Not once, while she was counseling the Duvalier family, did she speak out about the massive levels of poverty that the majority of Haitians were subjected to.

Second, the whole idea that the rich and the poor have an encounter, is just plain offensive. The idea that the rich and the poor have an encounter reminds me of the way that some people wanted to talk about the 500th anniversary of the European invasion of the Americas. Some religious and secular people wanted to refer to this historic event as an encounter. The fact is, what happened should be referred to as an ongoing act of genocide and slavery, since this is exactly what happen to the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere and the Africans who were forcibly removed from their own communities and sold into slavery in the so-called new world.

The fact that Rev. Sirico pay homage to Mother Theresa and justifies his organization’s work by quoting her, should tell us exactly what we need to know about the Acton Institute and why they should be resisted.

The Funding Behind the Transit Millage campaign

November 14, 2017

It has been a week since election day, which saw the local Transit Millage get passed in Kent County with 61.4% of the vote.

The Transit Millage, as many are aware of, was a contentious issue this year, primarily because of the fact that The Rapid drivers and mechanics had been working without a contract for the past 2 years. Some members of the union and allies were asking people to not support the Transit Millage until a contract could be negotiated.

The purpose of this post is to merely look at the campaign finance documents from the Transit Millage, both those who funded to oppose the millage and those who provided funds to support.

The Opposition: Kent Transit in Action

The group Kent Transit in Action is listed as the organization that was formally opposing the Transit Millage, according to the Kent County Clerk campaign finance documents. They received $10,586.03 in contributions, but only spent $1,675.49. There were only 3 sourced contributions:

Kent County Taxpayers Alliance contributed $5,000 twice – $10,000

Kent Education Action contributed $586.03

They only spent $1,675.49, all of which went to a group known as Right Strategies LLC, located at 2155 Wealthy St SE Suite 166, East Grand Rapids, MI 49506. Right Strategies LLC spent the money on a mailer and a phone poll.

Both of these organizations listed above as contributors have the same address of 6757 Cascade Rd PO Box 115, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.

Some of the members of the bus driver’s union and allies also organized to oppose the Transit Millage, yet there is no evidence of any funds they might have raised or expenses incurred.

Proponents of the Transit Millage: Friends of Transit

The Friends of Transit raised a total of $22,907, according to the Kent County Clerk campaign finance documents. There were numerous contributions, which are listed here, with name, status and amount contributed.

  • George Heartwell Retired $100
  • Jack & Rebecca Smith Hoffman Attorney $500
  • Rev. Charles & Sara Homeyer Retired $100
  • Rachel Hood $50
  • Christman Company Business $1,000
  • Robert Roth Business owner $257
  • Jeff Cranson State employee $103
  • Mark Przybysz Catholic Priest $257
  • George Lott III Architect $103
  • Stephen Draft-Peppin $52
  • LACKS Business $2,000
  • Birgit Klohs $50
  • Phil Skaggs Legislative Director $100
  • Paul Troost $50
  • Adelyn VanTol Community Organizer $100
  • Peter Varga CEO The Rapid $250
  • Hoestra Transportation Business $500
  • Equity PAC $2,000
  • Eric Delong Assistant City Manager $150
  • Rosalynn Bliss $50
  • Rick Treur $52
  • Elissa Grumley Gud Marketing $200
  • Johnny Brann Jr Business Owner $100
  • Bradley Thomas Engineer Progressive AE $1,500
  • Debbie Horak Gud Marketing $200
  • Mayor Mark Huizenga $150
  • John Hunting Retired $1,000
  • Win & Kyle Irwin Irwin Seating $200
  • Mike & Meegan Joyce The Rapid $100
  • Gordie & Jan Moeller Retired $100
  • Brittany Schlacter The Rapid $50
  • Terry Schweitzer $50
  • Gary Cary Jr City Commissioner $100
  • Maxwell Dillivan Planner $50
  • Patricia Draper $25
  • Bill & Kay Farr Retired $250
  • Conrad Venema $50
  • Kate Pew Wolters Self-Employed $500
  • Association for the Visually Impaired $250
  • Mark Huizenga Systems Consulting $150
  • St. Anthony Catholic Church $515
  • Barbra Holt Retired $153
  • Joshua Leffingwell $5
  • David Bulkowski ED/Disability Advocates $9,520

Most of the expenses were for mailers, mailer design and postage.

It should be noted however, that of the 44 separate contributions, 8 came from members of The Rapid Board of Directors for a total of $10,573. There were also 3 staff from The Rapid, which contributed a combined total of $400. The largest contributions came from political action committees or businesses, which contributed between $500 and $2,000.

The West MI Policy Forum’s ongoing war against the public sector

November 12, 2017

The West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) has only been around since 2008, yet its impact has been tremendous in terms of influencing state policy that attacks working people and benefits the capitalist class.

A creation of the of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the has used its lobbying power over the past decade to promote neoliberal economic policies and austerity measures. The WMPF has been relentless in its war on working people, public sector employees, unions, public education and the privatization of government.

Since their founding, the WMPF has reduced the business tax in Michigan, pushed through Right to Work legislation, further privatized public education, diminished the power of local governments and taken away public teacher pensions.

Now the WMPF wants to eliminate public sector employee pensions, pensions that government employees fought for decades ago and pensions that those same employees are hoping to retire on.

Recently, the WMPF posted this message on their Facebook page. It states, “81 of 83 counties in Michigan have at least one local unit of government with a pension or other post-employment benefit plan that is less than 60 percent funded, the level typically considered critically underfunded.”

The Facebook post included a link to an article from MI Tech News. In that article, Anthony Randazzo is quoted as saying:

“This widespread problem with unfunded liabilities means that more and more revenue from today’s taxpayers is being consumed to cover these obligations, crowding out the ability for local governments to fund basic services, ensure police and fire departments are fully staffed, pay for road improvements, and provide public goods such as libraries and parks.”

In other words, what Randazzo is saying, is that public sector employee pensions are a burden on taxpayers and should be done away with.

Included within the article is a website, https://unfundedmichigan.org/, which provides data on each county in Michigan as it relates to the local government entities and where they stand on public sector employee benefits, specifically pensions. You can search each county, by clicking on the county for added data. Here is what the website is claiming in terms of the governments within Kent County and where they stand on pensions.

The website, https://unfundedmichigan.org/, is run by the Pension Integrity Project, which is part of the Reason Foundation. The Reason Foundation website states that their organization, advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” The organization’s board of trustees is made up of folks from the financial sector, including David Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers, that has been engaging in a war on the public sector for decades. 

According to Source Watch, the Reason Foundation is intertwined with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)  and the State Policy Network, which includes groups like the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Reason Foundation was also one of the 32 organizations linked to the Fossil Fuel industry that was named in 2016 as one of the groups denying climate change

Thus, it seems clear that the West Michigan Policy Forum needs to be exposed for who they really are, but they need to be actively resisted for promoting policy that attacks the public sector and makes the private sector all that more powerful.

Movimiento Cosecha GR kick’s off their Boycott Turkey Campaign

November 2, 2017

Last night, in front of the downtown branch of the Grand Rapids Library, the Grand Rapids chapter of Movimiento Cosecha kicked off its campaign to boycott Turkey and turkey products through the rest of the year.

The campaign began with Erica (pictured on the left above) talking about her experience working at Michigan Turkey, which has 2 poultry processing plants in the Greater Grand Rapids area. She said that after working on the processing line, where her job always involved pulling, she been to experience pain in her one hand.

The very next day, her supervisor notice that there was some discoloration in her hand and asked her what was wrong. Fearing that she would lose her job, she said it was nothing. The next day, she was asked to train someone to do what she did and then the supervisor asked her to sign a document saying she was quitting. She refused, but the supervisor said their was nothing he could do, so even though she did not sign, she was still fired.

After Erica shared her story, Gema Lowe with Movimiento Cosecha GR spoke about her own story as an immigrant working in Michigan. She stated:

My name is Gema and I immigrated to the Grand Rapids area more than 20 years ago. In all these years, I have worked in several jobs, almost all in factories where most of the workers were also immigrants. It was not until something drastic happened in my life and I suffered an accident at work that left me unable to work, and as a result I lost my home and most of the things that I was able to have with all my years of work. It was then that I understood the many abuses that immigrants suffer and how these companies take advantage of the fear that immigrants have of being deported so that they can pay low wages and not to provide the benefits and protections that workers have, such us workers compensation.

At this point Gema then talked about the power that immigrants have, considering the fact that if most immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants went on strike, the country would be deeply impacted. This is especially the case in the food industry, where most migrant labor is done by immigrants, as well as the slaughterhouse industry.

Gema then stated:

Right now in the poultry industry there is exploitation of immigrant hands where they are denied their most basic rights and needs such as going to the bathroom. The production line is constantly producing more than one bird per second and the workers are not replaced in their work stations so they have reached the point that they have to go to work wearing adult diapers because they are being exploited and violated on their rights.

Recognizing that all the food that is on our tables during these end of the year festivities has been cultivated, harvested and processed by immigrant hands, we invite you to make the sacrifice of not eating turkey to honor the work of immigrant workers and we invite, when you are together with your families at the Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas or New Year to remember that our immigrant brothers and sisters whose families may not be together because they have been separated and won’t be able to celebrate because their family members have been deported.

Movimiento Cosecha GR is call for a boycott of all turkey and turkey products to demonstrated their economic power until their demands are met. Those demands include – Respect, Dignity and the Permanent Protection of all Immigrants, regardless of their status.

The boycott campaign will include many other activities over the next few months, but for those who want to get involved, please contact Movimiento Cosecha GR by going to their Facebook page

Below is a flyer they will be distributing in English and Spanish to inform people about the boycott and their movement for immigrant justice.

 

The West MI Power Structure is gearing up for 2018 Election with their money

November 1, 2017

Yesterday, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network posted an article looking at the organizations and families contributing the most money (as of Oct 20, 2017) to the 2018 elections at the state level in Michigan.

The data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network looks specifically at the campaign contributions that are being funneled through the House Democratic Fund, the Senate Democratic Fund, the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

They list several of the members of the West MI Power Structure as major contributors and we decided to to the campaign contributions to date for the state level together, with images and a brief list of some of the other groups these people are involved with in West Michigan. The groups they are involved in not only influence state policy, they influence the economic and political realities in West Michigan.