Skip to content

The Transformative Power of Accompaniment: How Oscar Romero Changed My Life

October 18, 2018

In January of 1992, just days before the cease-fire in El Salvador, I was sitting in the Central Plaza watching the crowds of people with my traveling partners. We noticed a large crowd in the center listening to a man speaking in English who was accompanied by a translator. I decided to walk over to investigate what was going on when I realized that the man speaking was a preacher from the US. No sooner did I realize this that I turned around and rejoined my friends shaking my head in disgust.

When the crowd finally dispersed I noticed that the street preacher was headed in our direction. Right away he began to speak to us in English and inquired about our being in El Salvador. We told him we were tourists because one never knows when there are people listening in on your conversations. Before we could say any more this guy began asking us if we had “come to know the Lord.” We all said no, much to his disappointment, but we were curious enough to know what he was doing here. He said “to spread the Gospel and to win souls for Christ.” We asked him if he was doing anything for these people in the way of food, housing, jobs, ect. He told us no and that those things were not relevant as long as people saved their souls.

At that point I remember telling him that he was no different than the long line of Christians who had come here to impose their will on these people. I said if you wanted to preach religion, maybe he might want to follow the model of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero. Looking at me with a confused expression, our missionary friend simply said, “Who was he?”

The above was taken from my book, Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time. That book is about how the people of Central America and Chiapas, Mexico had transformed my life and helped me to come to the realization that real solidarity takes place when we accompany people who are fighting for liberation from oppression.

I also shared this story about the US missionary in El Salvador, because it demonstrates how arrogant and clueless most people in the US are when it comes to the life and commitment of the late Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. In El Salvador, people affectionately referred to Romero as Monsenor, because Romero had demonstrated his commitment to the people of El Salvador towards the end of his life. And Romero had primarily demonstrated his commitment to the people because he accompanied them in their struggle, walking with them and making the church in El Salvador their church of the poor and oppressed.

Before Romero was chosen as the new Archbishop of El Salvador, he was a quiet and conservative bishop. Romero was even a member of the Opus Dei, a movement within the Catholic Church that began in Spain in the early part of the 20th century and supported the dictatorship of Franco.

However, Romero was a close friend of Fr. Rutillio Grande, a priest in one of El Salvador’s rural communities. Grande was a proponent of Liberation Theology and when he was assassinated for serving the poor and challenging the wealthy oligarchy in El Salvador, Romero began to see the light. This moment of transformation is what Jesuit scholar Jon Sobrino called “Rutillio’s Miracle,” because it was the catalyst that transformed Romero into the Voice of the Voiceless.

Quickly Romero began to not only speak out on behalf of the poor, he began acting in such a way that soon thousands of Salvadorans would come to call him simply “Monsenor.” Romero turned the facilities at the cathedral into a space for people to come for relief, food and medical assistance. Romero also began hearing the stories of countless Salvadorans who told him how their family members were disappeared, tortured and killed.

Romero then began to challenge the power structure in El Salvador, mostly through his Sunday sermons and his weekly radio broadcast. Romero understood all to well that the poverty and violence that people endured was because of the unjust economic power that the country’s wealthy possessed.

Romero also understood that the political violence that was terrorizing the country’s poor and working class people was a direct result of US military aid to El Salvador. Five weeks before Romero was assassinated he wrote a letter to then US President Jimmy Carter. He asked Carter that if the US really wanted to support justice in El Salvador that the US should stop sending weapons to his country and that the US should not directly intervene in any way into the political, economic, military or diplomatic affairs of El Salvador.

Noam Chomsky writes in the book Manufacturing Consent, that after Romero sent the letter to Carter, the Carter administration put pressure on the Vatican to try and curb the activities of the archbishop. The Vatican did not try to silence Romero for his critique of US imperialism, but they also did nothing to challenge the Salvadoran military to cease their threats against Romero and other religious workers in the tiny Central American country. This fact alone, makes you wonder, why is the Vatican now canonizing Romero as a Saint, when they were complicit in many ways in the US-back counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths in the 1980s?

How Romero Transformed my life

In March of 1980, when Oscar Romero was assassinated, I was completely oblivious to what was happening in El Salvador. However, within a few short years, my world was opened to the realities of US-sponsored terrorism in Central America.

When I first moved to Grand Rapids in 1982, I quickly came in contact with folks who were doing weekly vigils for Central America on the Monroe Mall. The picture shown above, was part of that ongoing consciousness raising work around Central America when the US was supporting counter-insurgency wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, the Contra War in Nicaragua and had turned Honduras into a massive US military base.

When I was in the seminary in 1983/84 and studying at Aquinas College, a student group that I was part of continued to hold vigils, hand out literature and invite speakers to campus. We hosted a Salvadoran labor organizer who had survived a bombing of her labor hall earlier that year.

After I had left the seminary and helped to found the Koinonia House, we continued organizing around Central American solidarity issues, but it never felt like it was enough. Then in 1986, our community house on LaGrave, decided to take the next step and declare ourselves a sanctuary for Central American political refugees. It was this decision that led me down the path of living and working in Central America, making 13 trips between 1988 and 2006, doing primarily accompaniment work.

According to Staughton Lynd’s book, Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change, Salvadoran Archbishop was the first person to use the term accompaniment. Romero practiced accompaniment in two important ways.

First, the Salvadoran Archbishop practiced accompaniment by speaking out against injustice. Romero spoke out against the injustice in El Salvador, because that is what the people told him to do. Romero did this in his sermons, in his letters and on his radio show.

In his Third Pastoral Letter as Archbishop, Romero stated, “The most acute form in which violence appears in Latin America, is structural, or institutionalized violence, in which the socioeconomic and political structures operate to the benefit of a minority with the result that the majority of people are deprived of the necessities of life.” This is why in the same pastoral letter, Romero denounces Capitalism.

However, the second and most important form of accompaniment that Romero practiced, was walking with the people. Romero made it a point to visit communities all over El Salvador, to listen to them and to learn from them in their struggle.

This was the most important lesson I learned from Romero. I learned to walking with people, to listen and to accompany them even if it meant putting my life at risk.

When I was in El Salvador during the cease fire in 1992, the women from the grassroots organization COMADRES (an organization founded as a result of the assassination of Archbishop Romero), had invited us to stay at their offices, because it would help keep them safe. What these Salvadoran women meant was that the presence of gringos would provide them with some extra space to do what they needed to do and maybe it would mean they would be able to stay alive for another day.

COMADRES, like so many other Salvadoran groups were constantly receiving death threats and having members of their organization disappear or end up murdered by the Salvadoran army. The four of us who stayed at their office were honored that they would ask us to have a presence with them and we delighted in the opportunity to sleep on the floor.

Because the cease fire had begun, there was a massive demonstration planned a few days later in San Salvador, where hundreds of thousands of people who converge on the capitol and celebrate the end of the counter-insurgency war that Romero and so many others fought against. Again, the women at COMADRES asked us to accompany them in the march and to even make our own banner expressing our solidarity with the Salvadoran people.

The march and celebration was amazing and lasted all day, all night and into the following morning. It is hard for those of us who have not grown up in a war torn country to understand the emotional and psychological relief that people were experiencing during the celebration that took place right next to the Cathedral that Romero had preached at while he was the Archbishop.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the Vatican’s decision to canonize Monsenor Romero, since for me and for most Salvadorans, Romero did not need to be validated by the Catholic hierarchy. Romero found his validation in the work of accompaniment. We shouldn’t need to feel validated by awards or recognition, rather our validation should come from those we accompany on the road to collective liberation. Viva Monsenor Romero!

Proposal for new immigration detention facility in Ionia indicates an increase in ICE activity in Michigan

October 17, 2018

Several Michigan news sources are reporting that the Deerfield Correctional Facility, a former state prison in Ionia, could be the site of a new privately run detention facility for immigrants.

So far, only the Immigration Centers of America (ICA) has applied to purchase the former prison, which closed in 2009. According to the Detroit Free Press, the state has not signed off on the deal yet, although it is important to note that the former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder who is now a lobbyist working for the detention center company, Dennis Muchmore. 

The Detroit Free Press article also states that the federal government is also waiting to find out if the facility will be able to hold between 500 – 600 immigrant detainees at any given time. The article also quotes the CEO of Immigration Centers of America, Russell Harper, as stating:

The Deerfield site will become a major employer and taxpayer instead of an abandoned correctional facility.

Of course the CEO of a corporation that makes money from detaining people would argue that this would be good for the city of Ionia, as is indicated by featuring the economic impact for local economies on their website. (seen in the graphic below) This is what those who are part of the Prison/detention Industrial Complex always argue, that prisons, jails and detention facilities are good business and will create jobs. Ionia has a long history of hosting a prison, which makes the likelihood that the city would agree to the new immigrant detention facility, almost a sure thing. 

Richard Kessler, an immigration lawyer based in Grand Rapids said this news signals, “the continued criminalization and detention of people who only have non-violent offenses. It is also problematic that this is a for profit endeavor. It is upsetting and frustrating, this trend of for profit detention facilities that is happening across the country and it is my experience that the private facilities tend to treat people worse than state run facilities. If this detention facility comes to pass it will likely lead to an increase in detention of immigrants in Michigan and ultimately, it will hurt more families within the immigrant community.”

Immigration Centers of America

Immigration Centers of America was founded in 2008 and provides detention and transportation services for the US Department of Homeland Security. Their Farmville Detention Facility in Virginia, is often cited as a shinning example of the kind of services they offer to Homeland Security.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, ICA spent around $50,000 on lobbying in 2011, which makes sense, since that is the year they first began to operate the Farmville Detention Facility. 

What this proposed Immigration Detention facility could mean for Michigan

This news that Ionia could be an immigrant detention facility for between 500-600 immigrants is deeply disturbing news. What those of us who work with the immigrant community and and for immigrant justice need to consider are the following:

  • The new ICA facility will further criminalize immigrants
  • It will lead to an increased level of fear within the immigrant community
  • It will result in an escalation of family separation within the immigrant community
  • It signals a deeper relationship between the state and private power
  • It affirms the Trump administration’s desire to increase ICE agents and ICE activity in Michigan

For those who are committed to the fight for immigrant justice, the proposed privately run immigrant detention facility means we have our work cut out for us and will make 34 ICE detention facilities in Michigan, based on the data  from the Dept. of Homeland Security that you can see in the map shown here on the right. La Lucha Sigue!!

Information obtained from FOIA reveals that ICE put holds on immigrants at the Kent County Jail for driving without a license and other local charges

October 16, 2018

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article on page A9 entitled, Most ICE detainees arrested on local charges. 

The article, written by Michael Kransz, is based on data obtained by the Grand Rapids Press because of a FOIA. The data looks numbers from 2017, some of which was known previously, but now there is more evidence to support the claims of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.

For months now, the local campaign to end the ICE contract that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has had since 2012, has argued that many of the charges brought against the immigrant community are for non-violent offenses, yet these charges often end with ICE putting a hold on the immigrants.

The Grand Rapids Press article states:

Protesters have argued the county’s contract and cooperation with ICE incentives racial profiling of Latinos and the number of immigrants arrested for minor infractions or nonviolent crimes, thereby exposing them to deportation.

ICE argues its work focuses on those who “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Walls said in an email. He added that other “classes or categories of removable aliens” aren’t exempted.

It is interesting that the Press cites an ICE official, but doesn’t cite directly someone with Movimiento Cosecha GR or GR Rapid Response to ICE, even though both groups have made themselves available to the news media since the campaign to end the contract began in late June.

The GR Press article continues by giving a breakdown of the charges against immigrants that has led to a detainer request from ICE in Kent County. Not that few of the charges would fall under the categories of “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

The top six arresting charges last year were:

  • Driving with a suspended license: 37
  • Domestic violence: 31
  • Operating while intoxicated: 28
  • False information to a police officer: 7
  • Assault or attempt to assault a police officer: 5
  • No driver’s license or never applied: 5

This new data confirms what members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE have been saying since June, that the immigrant community is being targeted by ICE for minor and non-violent offenses, such as not having a drivers license. Therefore, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department contract with ICE not only contributes to the separation of immigrant families, it unnecessarily causes harm and trauma to that community.

In addition, based on a letter sent to retiring Sheriff Larry Stelma in late September, the County is not legally obligated to have a contract with ICE or even hold immigrants that ICE has requested a detainer for. As the letter from MIRC and the ACLU states: 

In sum, detainers are optional. They are simply requests, not mandates, from ICE for a local law enforcement entity to hold an individual beyond the time she or he otherwise would have been released from local custody. Your office has the option to stop this practice at any time.

I spoke with volunteer organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR, Gema Lowe, who had this to say about the new information obtained through a FOIA:

All along we have been saying that mobility and to be able to driver and take a test has no connection to one’s immigration status. People are able to drive in MI should be able to get a drivers license. This data confirms what we have been saying all along and that separating families is not justified because people don’t have a drivers licenses. If there is an incentive for officers to pull people over, it’s an economic incentive to profile people who look like they might be an immigrant. And this is exactly why we need to end the ICE contract with the Sheriff’s department. It is the right thing to do and it will mean that they will no longer be comp0licit with this violence,If they really want to build trust with the immigrant community, then this is the step that they would take.

Movimiento Cosecha GR is currently working on a statewide campaign to obtain drivers licenses for all, in addition to resisting ICE violence in Kent County, along with the group GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Managing Michigan Politics: Greg McNeilly, the DeVos Family and the November Elections

October 14, 2018

Last week, the West Michigan Policy Forum posted a link on their Facebook page that directs people to an opinion piece in the Detroit News, written by Michigan Freedom Network Director and DeVos Family operative, Greg McNeilly.

McNeilly was the campaign manager for the failed gubernatorial campaign of Dick DeVos in 2006. McNeilly is also a board member of GLEP and is the Chief Operating Officer of the DeVos run Windquest Group. McNeilly was quoted in an MLive article from last year, boasting how political donations are the most protected form of speech:

“Political speech is the most protected form of speech, and we need more people participating at higher levels. We should applaud anyone who is leading on that dimension and try to encourage greater participation in our great American experiment.”

What McNeilly is really says is that those with the most wealth really really determine the outcome of elections, or as the first Chief Justice of the US, John Jay once said, “Those who own the country, ought to govern it.”

Like John Jay, McNeilly understands that those with real power in the US are the owners, members of the private sector, not the politicians. One only need to look at who the largest political donor in Michigan has been for the past 20 years, the family that McNeilly works for, the DeVos Family. 

McNeilly’s Opinion piece in the Detroit News

The article written by McNeilly for the Detroit News is entitled, Don’t Hijack Michigan’s Constitution. Wanting to appear as if he supports the state’s constitution, McNeilly’s opinion piece is really just a way for him to demonstrate his obedience to the DeVos Family and tell everyone to vote No on all three Ballot Proposals in November.

McNeilly’s analysis of the three ballot proposals are weak and he provides no evidence to back up his claims. A good way to begin looking at anything that will be on the ballot this November, is to look at who is financially backing the ballot proposals. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) has good data on this. 

For instance, McNeilly says that, “Proposal 2 provides for more run-away government spending.”  However, McNeilly fails to let people know that some of the largest contributors to the no vote on Proposal 2 are the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC and member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, John Kennedy. According to MCFN, Enbridge Energy (Line 5 through Michigan) has been the largest contributor to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC for 2017-2018. Enbridge Energy embodies John Jay’s philosophy that those who own the country ought to govern it.

Managing Michigan

In McNeilly’s Detroit News opinion piece, he begins by stating:

Forty days from now all of Michigan’s votes will be cast. Michigan will elect new management. Really new management. None of Michigan’s top executives (governor, secretary of state and attorney general) will have done their job before. Two-thirds or more of the Legislature will also be new on the job. 

If one was to look at this statement, one might be tempted to think about McNeilly’s comments through a partisan lens. This is understandable, especially since the DeVos Family is deeply committed to the Republican Party and the other two groups that McNeilly is directly involved with, the Michigan Freedom Network and the Great Lakes Education Project have both made clear who they are endorsing in the November Election.

However, while I find McNeilly’s reference to politicians as managers of the state disgusting and reprehensible, it is not a completely inaccurate statement. Representative Democracy is tremendously limited and it provides an easy opportunity for those with tremendous wealth to dictate who runs government, at any level.

In Marina Sitrin and David Azzellini demonstrate in their important book, They Can’t Represent Us!: Reinventing Democracy From Greece To Occupy, liberal democracy is actually a barrier to full public participation in the ongoing developments in society. Too often, people of good will accept the notion that representative democracy is the best that we can do and if we just get enough people to vote for “our candidates” then things will be just fine.

Such sentiment is naive and will prevent us from ever envisioning and creating the kind of society that is built upon the values of collective liberation and revolutionary love.

Legal experts send letter to Kent County Sheriff Stelma to say that the County is NOT obligated to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement

October 11, 2018

On September 27th, lawyers with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and the ACLU of Western Michigan sent Kent County Sheriff Stelma a letter with significant legal citations claiming that the County was not obligated to cooperate with ICE.

Some of the main points of the letter are as follows:

  • One of the most important concepts to understand about ICE detainers is that detainers are requests from ICE, and are not legally binding orders on the Sheriff’s Department to hold individuals for ICE. Your office has the choice to cease the practice of honoring ICE detainers and to end the contract for reimbursement at any time.
  • Other Sheriffs in Michigan – including those in Wayne County, Washtenaw County, and Ingham County – recognize that entanglement with ICE damages both their relationship with immigrant communities and their ability to protect the public, and have chosen not to cooperate with, or severely limit their cooperation with, ICE. There is no legal reason Kent County could not make the same choice.
  • You emphasized in our meeting the use of the proscriptive “shall” in the first paragraph of this section of the statute prohibits you from choosing not to comply with ICE detainers. However, that is an overly broad reading of the statute. The statute, of course, does not mention any required action with respect to ICE at all, nor does it indicate that the county jail must accept any and all prisoners presented to it for detention, only that jails shall be used in a certain way—for housing certain types of prisoners. For example, the statute allows Kent County to accept prisoners from the City of Grand Rapids, but it does not compel Kent County to have a contract with Grand Rapids to house the City’s prisoners. The same is true for ICE. We have found no cases or other authority suggesting that the statute has ever been interpreted to impose a mandate that a county jail hold federal prisoners. The statute authorizes the jail hold federal prisoners, but does not require the jail to do so.
  • Your office believes that because this section requires the federal government (“the United States”) to pay when it houses a prisoner in a county jail, the Kent County Jail must have a contract with ICE because that is the only way it can get paid. But that analysis presupposes that Kent County is going to hold detainees for ICE in the first place. Because detainers are voluntary, and because Kent County has no legal obligation to hold immigrants for ICE, it can simply stop doing so. And of course if Kent County is not holding immigrants for ICE, there is no need for the federal government to pay Kent County. In other words, MCL § 801.1 comes into play, if at all, only because your Department has elected to hold immigrants for deportation by ICE. If you change that policy, you would no longer be holding individuals for the federal government, and MCL § 801.1 would be irrelevant.
  • Finally, you stated that you understand your oath of office as requiring you to collaborate with ICE. That is simply not the case. MCL § 51.73 requires sheriffs to swear the constitutional oath of office, which provides: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of [Kent County Sheriff] according to the best of my ability.” Mich. Const. Art. XI, § 1. There is absolutely nothing in that oath that requires the Sheriff to take on the entirely voluntary option of holding immigrants for potential deportation by ICE.
  • Contracting with ICE sows distrust in immigrant communities who are afraid that the Sheriff will turn them or a loved one over to ICE, starting a process that will tear their families apart in devastating and permanent ways. The Sheriff’s Department cannot expect to regain the trust of immigrant communities or repair its broken relationship with those communities so long as it prioritizes the desires of federal officials over the needs of immigrant residents of Kent County. The Sheriff’s Department is making an affirmative choice to hold immigrants for ICE – a choice which has caused great pain in the immigrant community. Ending the contract with ICE and ceasing the entirely voluntary practice of carrying out ICE detainers will go a long way in restoring that trust.
  • Furthermore, current federal deportation practices are inhumane and arbitrary. The ICE contract and the underlying policy of holding immigrants for ICE implicate the Kent County Sheriff’s Department in deportation practices that increasingly target immigrants with deeply rooted lives in the United States, right here in Kent County. These are people the United States has often explicitly invited to build families, careers, businesses, and communities in our country—over many years, sometimes decades—and now suddenly face deportation. The cruelty of these policies presents a further reason to disentangle your agency from the ICE detainer system.

The ACLU/MIRC letter ends with a plea to the Kent County Sheriff to rebuild community trust and to end the entanglement with ICE, stating:

We urge the Kent County Sheriff’s Department to stop the practice of carrying out ICE detainer requests and to terminate the contract with ICE. We encourage you to reach out to the Sheriffs of other counties in Michigan who have also taken proactive steps to limit, or stop altogether, the practice of helping ICE target the immigrant residents of their communities, such as Sheriff Jerry Clayton of Washtenaw County, Sheriff Benny N. Napolean of Wayne County, and Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth of Ingham County, among others. Their experience confirms that you have a choice about whether to hold our immigrant neighbors for ICE, and that other Sheriffs have found that it is in the best interests of their communities not to do so.

Again, the entire letter can be read at this link. For those who will be attending future Kent County Commission meetings or wanting to be part of the Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE campaign to End the Contract with ICE, this legal argument is a useful tool.

We don’t want promises, We want Licenses: Movimiento Cosecha rally inspires!

October 10, 2018

Yesterday, Movimiento Cosecha’s 5 day pilgrimage ended in Lansing at the state capitol. The pilgrimage was designed to draw attention and kick-off a statewide campaign to get drivers licenses for all.

In addition to those who were walking, people from all over the state – Ann Arbor, Detroit, Sturgis, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, made the trek to Lansing to kick-off their campaign and to demand divers licenses for all. Their strategy is to build a statewide mass movement of immigrants and allies that will apply public pressure to force lawmakers to make it possible for everyone to obtain drivers licenses.

This strategy, which is part of their theory of change, is a result of past experiences around immigration policies reform promises that never came to pass. Movimiento Cosecha was formed in 2015, through the lived experiences of immigrants who fought for DACA and DAPA and who were betrayed by previous promises not kept by politicians. Learning from previous social movements, their strategy is to build power from below to obtain respect, dignity and permanent protection for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Just before 1pm yesterday, Cosecha groups from across the state began arriving in Lansing, some by bus and others by car. The group pictured above was from Detroit and they got people energized before those participating in the pilgrimage arrived. They immediately began opening up banners and standing on the steps of the capitol building.

At about 1:45pm, those walking in the pilgrimage for drivers licenses could be seen walking towards the capitol, which elicited a huge round of applause from everyone gathered. People began chanting as the walkers approached, both in Spanish and English, saying, “Si, Se Puede” and “Promesas No, Licencias Si.” One person who had been providing support from those walking the entire five days, turned to me with tears of joy as the walkers moved past us and gathered in front of the capitol building.

Once everyone arrived, there were numerous short speeches made by people, first by several of the pilgrimage participants. One woman made the point that walking in the cold, wet rain some days, reminded her of coming to the US on foot, when she left her home in Mexico and made the difficult trek north in search of greater opportunities for her family.

Many of those who participated in the pilgrimage spoke about how why it was important for them to walk, both for themselves and for their community, which has lived in the shadows too long. Another pilgrimage participant made it clear that she was walking because, “to drive without a license and then be stopped by the police could change one’s life forever.” What she was referring to was the fact that if immigrants are stopped by law enforcement and don’t have licenses, not only would they be fined and arrested, but they would then have a hold put on them by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and normally go to a detention facility and possibly deported. This point underscored the urgency of the need for immigrants in Michigan to be able to obtain a drivers license, regardless of their immigration status.

There were also several clergy members who spoke during the rally. Rev. Justo Gonzalez made it clear, that even though the system often referred to immigrants as criminals, it was the representatives, senators and the Governor of Michigan who were the real criminals for deny immigrants the opportunity to obtain a drivers license. An lawyer from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, based in Grand Rapids, also addressed the rally crowd by talking about how irrational it is for states to deny immigrants the opportunity to obtain a drivers license and how everyone would benefit, for safety reasons and because insurance costs would go down.

However, the most important comments came directly from the immigrant community, who shared their stories and talked about the Drivers Licenses for All campaign.

What felt different about this rally than most rallies I have attended at the state capitol, was the fact that this campaign is being built by a mass movement that does not put their hopes in politicians to act. People were not pleading with those at the rally to go out and vote as the primary action to take. Indeed, most of those gathered cannot vote as they are not full citizens in the US. More importantly, their strategy is to build a mass movement that will force systems of power to give them what they want, much like the civil rights movement and so many movements have done before them.

Organizers with Movimiento Cosecha kept reminding people to sign up for their action alerts, to organize in their individual communities and to donate when they can to support the work of Cosecha. Cosecha organizers reminded people that there would be a Live Facebook event on Monday, October 15, to explain to anyone in Michigan, how they can be involved in the fight to win drivers licenses for all.

At about 3:30pm the rally came to a close, with people offering hugs to everyone, more words of encouragement and one last opportunity for a group photo. The crowd left energized and inspired to be part of this historic work and historic movement.

 

The Matrix of ICE in Kent County: Opportunities for Organizing and Resistance

October 8, 2018

A recent article in the monthly publication, In These Times, had excellent information and analysis on the corporations that have contracts with ICE. 

The article focuses mostly on the immigration detention facilities and all the businesses that are complicit with ICE violence against the immigrant community. The number of businesses complicit with ICE in regards to detention is pretty astounding, as you can see from the graphic here below.

This matrix of private collusion with Immigration and Customs Enforcement got me thinking about how many private and public entities have a contractual relationship with ICE in Kent County.

We have known for the past six months now, that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has had a contract with ICE since 2012. This contract was renewed in 2017, but has been challenged by the immigrant community and some allies since June of 2018 to end the contract with ICE.

On October 1st, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE organized a protest for the national NoBusinessWithICE day. The target of the action on October 1st was the Edmark Developement Company, which is located at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. The reasons for targeting Edmark, is because they rent to the Department of Homeland Security in their Water’s Center building.

However, there are many more entities that are complicit with ICE in Kent County. First, there are at least two other ICE offices in Grand Rapids (that we know of), both of which lease space from private companies.

The ICE office at 517 Ottawa Ave. NW, just north of 196, is owed by FMS Property Management LLC. FMS Property Management LLC has their office right next door, located at 525 Ottawa Ave. NW.

The other ICE office is located at 545 Michigan St. NE on the Medical Mile. This is a new ICE office, which deals with people who have been arrested or detained at on point, but are now no longer in custody, but need to check in with ICE regularly so that the agency can keep tabs on them until the courts decide their fate. This ICE office is owned by NAI Wisniski of West Michigan

In addition to office space that ICE rents in Kent County, there are numerous other private entities that are listed on the graphic above, which also operate in Kent County. First, there is Aramark, the food service company that operates across the country and has numerous contracts with ICE detention facilities. Aramark also happens to have a contract with the Kent County Jail.

Then there is GPS, which makes the ankle trackers that many ICE arrestees must wear so that ICE can keep tabs on them. Those who work with the GR Rapid Response to ICE project are aware of several people who have been arrested by ICE and asked for their assistance, that must wear these GPS trackers.

Another company listed on the above graphic is Akal Security Inc. Akal Security Inc. is another national entity that works closely with government law enforcement. According to their website, they have an office a 1 Division Ave NW in Grand Rapids, which interestingly enough is the building that houses the GRPD.

There is also the G4S company, which is an international corporation that has contracts with ICE. G4S also has an office in Grand Rapids, located at 1444 Michigan St NE, a few blocks east of Fuller, where they rent space in a small office complex.

Lastly, there is the Keefe Group, which has a contract with ICE to provide financial services. The Keefe Group has an office located just off of Kraft Ave SE and 32nd St, just off of highway 96.

Organizing and Resistance Opportunities

It is bad enough that ICE operates in Kent County and is doing serious harm to immigrant families on a weekly basis. However, with more information about the private and public entities that are complicit with ICE, through contractual agreements, his provides us with greater opportunities to organize, resistance and eventually abolish ICE’s presence in Kent County.

Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE are already committed to working on reducing ICE harm to immigrant families in Kent County. These two grassroots and autonomous groups are also working on a campaign to end the ICE contract with Kent County and we exposed the relationship between the Edmark Development Company on NoBusinessWithICE day on October 1st.

However, we need more people and organizations to be part of this movement to kick ICE Out of Kent County. We need a multi-pronged attack against ICE and in order to do that we need people who can commit to doing education, organizing and contributing funds to Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. We need people who are willing to confront the other entities listed in the Matrix of ICE in Kent County.

For instance, GVSU also has a food service contract with Aramark. If GVSU students, faculty or staff would join the campaign to kick ICE out of Kent County by informing people on campus, boycotting Aramark or resisting other ways, that would be an important contribution for this movement.

In many ways, the effort to abolish ICE is similar to the current BDS campaign, which is seeking to win justice for Palestine, but it is also similar to the South African Anti-Apartheid campaign, which was a significant part of the process to defeat the racist Apartheid system in South Africa. The South African anti-Apartheid Movement took decades to eventually win and the Palestinian BDS campaign is nearing a decade of organizing. However, like all social movements, these struggles take time and we need people who are committed to the long fight. If you are interested, contact Movimiento Cosecha GR or GR Rapid Response to ICE. Hasta La Huelga!