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Liberals, Conservatives and the defense of ICE violence

July 25, 2018

The issue of immigrants and immigration policy have been a rather contentious issue for most of US history. However, the recent actions by the Trump administration to separate immigrant families, especially at the border, has put Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) front and center.

There has been a great deal of organizing in response to ICE in the past 12 months, around the country and in the Grand Rapids area. Locally, the GR Rapid Response to ICE group has been hosting monthly trainings designed to mobilize people to prevent ICE from arresting, detaining or deporting people, along with a wide variety of direct support to immigrants who have been impacted by ICE. 

In addition, there is a recent campaign to get Kent County to end their contract with ICE, a contract they have had since 2012. There have been demonstrations at the June County Commission meeting, along with an action at the July 4th parade in East Grand Rapids, plus a petition campaign to end the contract

With all of the attention centered around the harm that is being done through ICE, it is no surprise that there are lots of sectors publicly defending ICE, both liberal and conservative sectors. Let’s take a look at two examples, one from a conservative think tank and another from a liberal politician.

A Conservative Defense of ICE

The first example comes from the Acton Institute, which posted an article about ICE last week, entitled, The Left’s populist pushback

The article, written by a third year university student, not only makes a weak argument about the “populist” response to ICE repression, the article demonstrates the author’s lack of understanding about what ICE does and how it impacts the immigrant community.

First, the Acton writer seems to think that the push to abolish ICE is being led by the group Democratic Socialist of America (DSA). While DSA chapters around the country have been active in actions against ICE, they are not the sole entity behind the growing movement. All across the US, there are anarchist groups, socialists, DSA groups, immigrant-led groups, religious groups and numerous autonomous groups that are not attached to any one political philosophy, which are organizing to resist ICE repression.

Second, the Acton article is rather vague when it comes to anything critical of ICE policies and practices. Nowhere in the article does it mention any hard facts about how ICE has been arresting and detaining immigrants, often followed by their deportation. The actual harm done to individuals and families has been devastation, such as the report released by the ACLU in May of 2018, documenting widespread abuse of immigrant children in detention. 

Third, the Acton Institute article calls upon its readers to “respect the rule of law” and that if there are abuses being committed by ICE, then there are proper ways to go about  making changes to the law.

Lastly, while the Acton article doesn’t overtly defend Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, it does endorse the administration’s criminalization of immigrants and compels its readers to trust that the rule of law will serve the greater good.

A Liberal Defense of ICE

The second response is written by Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen, which you can read at this link. Talen, who is a Democratic Commissioner, is responding specifically to the End the Contract camapign that Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE have initiated. Talen writes:

The Sheriff has assured me and others of several policies related to how they handle immigration-related issues:

• The Sheriff currently only holds individuals for ICE for whom there is a warrant for a criminal offense. The Sheriff does not hold people who have been detained by ICE for only an immigration violation.

• When someone is arrested for a criminal offense and booked at the jail, their information, including fingerprints and citizenship, is entered (by law) into a national database that is accessible to all law enforcement agencies in the U.S., including ICE. The Sheriff does not specifically notify ICE of a person’s immigration status but ICE is able to see who is at the jail and request that the person be held for up to 72 hours.

• Kent County Sheriff’s Deputies do not arrest or detain people solely for immigration violations.

Such assurances from the Sheriff are bogus and misleading. First, if a local law enforcement agency stops someone for a faulty brake light and then discovers that the person has no drivers license, they can be arrested and taken to the Kent County Jail, where ICE has the option of putting a hold on them. For Commissioner Talen, this is a criminal offense. The reality is that this is simply a policy matter in Michigan, which currently does not allow those who are undocumented to obtain a drivers license, even though that was previously the case. People should not seen as criminal simply because state or federal policy is outdated and unjust.

Second, by stating that the Sheriff’s Deputies do not arrest or detain people because of their immigration status is just a way of avoiding the point I just made about people being stopped and then arrested because they are driving without a license.

Third, we know, based on the study done about racial profiling in Grand Rapids, that law enforcement disproportionately stops black and latino/latinx motorists. This type of racial profiling, does not explicitly target people because of their immigration status, but it doesn’t matter, since those drivers who cannot obtain a drivers license are at greater risk of being pulled over by cops. The fact that cops or deputies don’t asked their immigration status is irrelevant, since their arrest put them in contact with ICE. Therefore, people’s immigration status DOES become the issue.

Commissioner Talen then goes on to say this:

A benefit to County taxpayers from having the contract is that it protects the County in the event of a lawsuit by having the Department of Justice defend it. There are a pair of existing lawsuits against Kent and Allegan Counties for detaining undocumented persons. I have been told that Allegan County, which does not have a contract with ICE, has spent over $100,000 on its defense so far while Kent County has been defended by the DOJ and has not incurred significant local cost. 

Really, the fiscal argument? people should be allowed to sue if the justice system does not serve them. More importantly, the argument here omits a major fiscal reality. The people who are picked up by ICE or end up in detention because ICE put a hold on them while in the Kent County Jail, are costing immigrant families hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Those who are put into detention by ICE are often the primary income earners, so immigrant families are suffering because they no longer have income and must rely on charity or alternative means of support. If the people who are being detained by ICE are eligible for bond, then families must come up with $5,000 – $7,000 for bond. This puts an even greater financial burden on immigrant families, many of whom are already burdened by the cost of living in this community. The fact that Commissioner Talen argues that this saves taxpayers money is also not true, since the immigrant community, even those who are undocumented, pay taxes in Kent County.

In the end, Commissioner Talen fails to acknowledge the harm and trauma being done to the immigrant community, he justifies and supports the county’s contract with ICE and he fails to acknowledge the campaign to end the contract with ICE. The best he can come up with is, “This is a complex and ongoing issue of significant importance to our community.”

As the old labor song asks, “which side are you on?” In the case of Commissioner Talen and the Acton Institute, both are on the side of oppression and state violence.

Graphic by Jason Flannery

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