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Statement from Commissioner Talen affirms his complicity in ICE violence and his unwillingness to take action to End the Contract

August 2, 2018

On Tuesday, Kent County Commission Jim Talen issued a statement on why he will not support the call from Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE for the County of Kent to End their contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

This statement not only further demonstrates Commissioner Talen’s unwillingness to do something that comes from the affected community (immigrant community), it makes it clear that he will not take action as an elected member of the county commission to concretely reduce the harm being done to the immigrant community through the actions of ICE and local law enforcement agencies that cooperate with ICE.

In the second paragraph of the statement, Commissioner Talen admits that there is harm being done to immigrant families, but lays the blame solely at the feet of federal and state government. It is true that the bulk of the violence done by ICE against the immigrant community is because of federal policy, however, ICE would have a much more difficult time terrorizing the immigrant community if they did not have the cooperation of private corporations (who makes money providing specific services for ICE) or local governments that have contracts/agreements with ICE to either provide jail beds for those detained by ICE or the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies. The Kent County government has a contract through the Sheriff’s Department to provide beds at the Kent County Jail for those ICE choses to put a hold on, plus the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has made it clear that they will cooperate fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In March of this year, Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma, signed onto a letter crafted by the National Sheriff’s Association, which makes it clear that this association embraces the same anti-immigrant position as the Trump administration. Here is just a sample of that letter and the hyper-nationalistic language it contains: 

Congress must act to pass legislation to secure our borders through enforcing immigration laws, tightening border security, support the replacement and upgrades to current barriers and fencing and construction of barriers along the U.S. and Mexico international boundary as requested by those areas where it is needed, suspending and/or monitoring the issuance of visas to any place where adequate vetting cannot occur, end criminal cooperation and shelter in cities, counties, and states, and have zero tolerance and increased repercussions for criminal aliens.

Commissioner Talen then goes on in his statement to say that what the End the Contract campaign is proposing should be, “vetted by people who have expertise in all the potential implications.” What Commissioner Talen is saying is that the affected community, the immigrant community being targeted by ICE, does not have enough expertise in understanding their own oppression. Such a statement by Commissioner Talen is dismissive of the lived experience of the immigrant community, a community that lives in constant fear of what ICE agents will do to their families, their parents, their spouses and what long-term effects it will have on the children.

Commissioner Talen then goes on to suggest that signing onto the statement put forth by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, will not help the cause (reducing the trauma to Kent County residents.) He then cites three excerpts from the End the Contract statement, which he says are problematic for him. It is worth including all three of his responses to these three points.

“….will immediately release a statement denouncing ICE….” I don’t know a lot about ICE and I have concerns about how the agency is doing its work under the direction of the current administration. I’m willing to denounce some of the specific current actions of ICE that are hurting families but I don’t know enough about it’s broader roles to denounce it overall. I suspect that there may be some important roles for it to play in immigration and customs enforcement.

“….submit a motion to end the contract….to all agendas….until the motion passes.” Although the County Commission does not have the power to end the contract, it could approve a resolution asking the Sheriff (who does have the power) to end the contract. In my experience, repeatedly submitting a motion is not a very effective way to get nine of my colleagues (a majority) to vote favorably on a motion. It would probably have the opposite effect. My experience suggests that I need to be able to provide good evidence in civil conversation with my colleagues to bring them over to my side and I am willing to commit to that.

“….will do everything in our power, including withholding county monies for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department budget and refusing approval of budgets, to end this contract.” The County Commission cannot withhold funding for a particular portion of the Sheriff’s budget. I don’t feel that it would be responsible for me to refuse approval of the entire Sheriff’s Department budget. The Sheriff plays an important role in ensuring the safety of our community.

To the first point, it is clear that Commissioner Talen doesn’t know a great deal about ICE, yet he believes ICE must provide some important roles. It is not a a surprise that the current immigration justice movement, made up of immigrant communities, other communities of color, religious communities and other allies, all are calling for the abolishment of ICE

ICE was created in 2003 as part of the U.S. government’s response to 9/11 that included mass surveillance, racial profiling, and militarism. As part of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE is positioned to treat immigrants as a security threat—not as people who are part of our communities. ICE only benefits the current systems of power and oppression and that is why Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE are calling for its abolishment.

The second point that Commissioner Talen communicates is that the County Commission does not have the power to end the contract. We disagree with that belief, in part because the commissioners voted to adopt a contract with ICE in 2012, plus the commissioners, like any organized body can pressure the Sheriff’s office to end the contract through a variety of tactics, specifically through the budget.

This brings us to Commissioner Talen’s third point, where he believes that the commission, cannot withhold funding for a particular portion of the Sheriff’s budget. Again, Commissioner Talen demonstrates his unwillingness to push the issue and use a tactic which could be rather effective. Talen qualifies his position in this third point by stating, The Sheriff plays an important role in ensuring the safety of our community. We would ask, whose community? The affected community, the immigrant community doesn’t feel safe because of the actions of the Sheriff’s Department.

In addition, this also speaks to the commissioners belief that law enforcement agencies primary function  is to keep the community safe. There is a growing body of work which suggests otherwise. I challenge Commissioner Talen to read Alex Vitale’s book The End of Policing or Kristian Williams book, Our Enemies in Blue. In Vitale’s book he states:

Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.

Why else is the county jail made up disproportionately of black or latino/latinx members of the community?

At the end of his statement, Commissioner Talen says, “I am committed to finding ways to reduce and hopefully eliminate the trauma being experienced by many in our community.” If this was true, then the commissioner would do what the immigrant community is asking him to do…….end the county’s contract with ICE. If he is unwilling to do this, then he is actually complicit in the violence that ICE commits against the immigrant community in Kent County.

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