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The Fight continues in the campaign to end the ICE contract in Kent County

August 16, 2018

There is a movement in Kent County to end the contract that the County has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Beginning in late June, this new movement (which was initiated by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE) began by mobilizing nearly 200 people to attend a Kent County Commission meeting to demand an end to the contract, which we reported on.

The initial action made it clear to the organizers of this campaign that county officials – administrators, the Sheriff’s Department and County Commissioners – were in no way interested in ending the contract with ICE. Since then, several commissioners have made public statements about how they have no power to end the contract and that the Sheriff’s Department holds all of the power.

The End the Contract campaign doesn’t believe that to be true and has pressured the commission to take a public stand against the contract and to use their authority over the budget to pressure the Sheriff’s Department to end the contract. So far, none of them have publicly agreed to do so.

The campaign is organized around the belief that real power resides in social movements and not with elected officials. We have seen in recent weeks the news media, elected officials and those who work for political parties express a contrary view. These sectors believe that they have the real power and the only way for the public to make progress is by getting “the right people” elected so that change can happen. However, this view of power and history is not supported by the history of social movements. From the Abolition movement to the Labor movement, the Civil Rights Movement to the Environmental Justice movement, change happens when people are organized to make the change that is necessary. Those in power never freely promote social justice. In fact, any change that might happen legislatively, has only ever come when social movements are strong enough to force elected officials to enact policy that the public wants.

This is the case with the End the Contract campaign, which seeks to mobilize enough people to ultimately pressure county officials to terminate their contract with ICE. In fact, this is what we are witnessing all around the country, where municipalities are ending their contract with ICE.

Even our neighbors in Kalamazoo County, the movement there recently made it possible for the local commissioners to pass a resolution stating in part:

In Kent County the elected officials continue to say that the only the Sheriff’s Department can make such a decision. Interestingly enough, Sheriff Stelma announced last week that he was retiring. In a recent MLive article, Stelma claims it has nothing to do with the protests against the ICE contract, yet it seems hard to believe that the End the Contract campaign had no influence on his decision.

Stelma made some ridiculous comments the previous week, in response to protestors showing up at the home of County Commission Chair Saalfeld’s home, claiming that intimidation isn’t very American.

Sheriff Stelma has been in a defensive posture since the county has had a contract with ICE, beginning in 2012. Here is a video clip, where one of the County Commissioners challenges Stelma over the use of beds by ICE at the county jail.

In addition, Sheriff Stelma (near the end of this video clip) states that the 3 day hold that ICE puts on being being held in the Kent County Jail is a “good” thing, because it gives families three days to be near the person who is being incarcerated at the county jail. Only someone who has the kind of privilege that Stelma has, could see this as something the county is doing that is a benefit to the families experiencing ICE repression.

In addition to attending county commission meetings, the End the Contract campaign has been involved in engaging the public in varying capacities, such as an action at the Fourth of July Parade, being at festivals and utilizing various forms of social media to invite people to be part of this fight to End the Contract.

People are encouraged to stay informed about the End the Contract campaign, by going to the Facebook page and to attend future actions, like the one being organized this Saturday at the Kent County Jail. The campaign is hosting an End the Contract with ICE Rally at the Kent County Jail. The rally will begin with a short march and then include speakers, music and more information about how to be involved in the campaign.

It is through this kind of actions and this campaign that the County will end their contract with ICE. This movement not only has made it a public issue, it will create enough pressure that county officials will have no choice but to respond to the will of the people and End the Contract.

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