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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.”

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