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The People’s Commission and the End the Contract with ICE campaign action expands list of demands from the County

September 14, 2018

As a matter of transparency, this writer participated in the action yesterday at the Kent County Commission meeting.

Yesterday, some two dozen people attended the Kent County Commission meeting to continued to demand that the county agree to work to end the contract between the county jail and ICE.

People met on Calder Plaza before going up to the County Commission meeting. Waiting for members of the End the Contract campaign were more than a dozen law enforcement officers, some from the GRPD and some from the Sheriff’s Department.

The police told organizers that if they planned on marching in the street there would be arrests. The cops said that since government dignitaries were in town because of the DeVos funeral, that they needed to keep streets open and not allow for any disturbances in the city.

Just moments before people went into the County building, someone from the Sheriff’s Department told them that anyone with a backpack could not come to the commission meeting for “security” reasons. This was just the latest tactic used by the county to try to deter people from participating in county government business.

People went inside and up to the third floor where the commission meets and right away notice that there were several people with backpacks and briefcases in the room, clearly demonstrating a double standard. Undeterred, the End the Contract campaign members stuck to their plan. What follows is text for what those who organized the action were calling the People’s Commission.

Speaker during public comment It’s been over two months since we first asked you to end the contract between ICE and the Kent County Jail – to not accept money to hold our immigrant neighbors for ICE, when often they’ve only been brought in for a traffic violation.  There is nothing regarding ending the contract on the agenda.  Will you sign this resolution now?

[Holds up resolution document, calls each commissioner who hasn’t signed by name.]

This Kent County Commission has shown it will not listen to the people’s will.  Therefore we must call a special commission – a People’s Commission – to model how to listen to the people, how to represent the people, and how to act in a way that responds to their needs. For instance, a People’s Commission would have meetings in the evening so people could attend, not during the work day like this one. 

Commissioners Womack and Melton, you signed the resolution, so we invite you to join us, as long as you’re willing to listen to the public and act to end the contract.  This is the People’s Commission!

[People’s Commissioners stand up, form semi-circle that mimics Kent County Commission seating arrangement.]

Chair: I now call this meeting of the People’s Commission to order!  We are here to listen to the public about the Kent County Jail contract with ICE.   We represent the people of Kent County as we actually are!  And we want to hear from the public – tell us – is this contract between ICE and the Kent County Jail hurting our community?

Public (together): YES!

Commissioner 1: How is it hurting our community?  Help me understand.

[Stories from affected community.] 

Commissioner 2: Some say that ICE serves as a positive agency?

Public (together): NO!

Public 1:  No. There’s evidence that there have been over 33,000 complaints filed against ICE over the last 7 years, alleging a wide range of abuses in immigration detention. Those included sexual abuse.  Complying with a demand could get an immigrant released -but they could be deported to the wrong country if they didn’t. (1)  This is who the Kent County Jail is working with.  And the Commission has the power to stop it.

Public 2: The ACLU has obtained over 30,000 pages of documented abuses of immigrant children in ICE custody.  IvCE officers have:

  • Punched a child’s head three times, kicked a child in the ribs
  • Used a stun gun on a boy, causing him to fall to the ground, shaking, with h eyes rolling back in his head
  • Subjected a 16-year-old girl to a search that ended in a sexual assault which was too graphic to describe here.
  • They’ve done many other things – calling children dogs, threatening them with sexual assault by other inmates, running over a teen with a patrol vehicle, refusing to let children stand up for days, and more.  (2)

This is who the Kent County Jail is working with. And the Commission has the power to end the contract and stop being complicit in this violence.

Public 1: For that matter, ICE was only created after 9/11.  Before that immigration was handled by Immigration and Naturalization Services, which had a greater focus on bringing people into the country.  Now immigration is handled by the Department of Homeland Security, which created ICE.  Forms of immigration that had been common and accepted before were now made into criminal acts. (3)  The Kent County Jail is complicit in criminalizing our neighbors. Yet the increased violence in enforcement by ICE has not stopped migration.  There are still currently an estimated 11 million under-documented immigrants in the U.S.

Public 2: Also, this violence by ICE shows us that we don’t need armed officers to fix our problems.  Right here in this group we have non-violent crowd safety volunteers, looking out for us and willing to de-escalate problems if they arise.

Commissioner 3: How many people in Kent County does the contract with ICE affect?

Public 3: In 2016, the number of undocumented immigrants in Kent County was over 13,000.  The undocumented share of the immigrant population was over 26%. (4)

This means that most immigrant families and many non-immigrant families here have loved ones who are under-documented, and the fear of their detention and deportation affects all areas of their lives.  The fear of losing a loved one.  Of losing a family member.  Of losing the income they need to live.  All because the Kent County Jail has sold them to ICE – received payment for holding them for ICE and handing them over.

Public 4: What’s more, nationally, there are over 350,000 people detained each year.  The national detention budget for 2017 was $2.6 billion for locking up our neighbors – but immigrants contribute $2.3 trillion of wealth to the U.S . (5) 

My point is this problem happens everywhere in the U.S., and that’s why it’s important for local decision-makers like yourselves to fix it at the local level, here in Kent County.

Commissioner 4: How much does Kent County benefit or lose from the contract to hold immigrants for ICE?

Public 3: Kent County only made $18,000 last year from this contract. (6) But it is estimated that immigrants contribute $3.3 billion a year to Kent County’s economy, which benefits the county. (7)  So it is much better for Kent County to not lock up our immigrant neighbors or hold them for ICE.

Also, our Kent County residents’ quality of life is decreased and their human rights are being violated by this contract. In a city and county that already has a national spotlight on its issues with racial profiling, this just gives more financial incentive to pull over Black and brown drivers. (8)  Criminalizing immigrants should not be a source of income for the government.  They should be allowed to live and work and raise their children in peace and without fear. (9)

Commissioner 5: So is there an alternative?

Public (together): YES!

Public 4: Across the nation, cities and counties like us have resolved not to work with ICE.

The mayor of Atlanta just ordered the city to end the relationship with ICE and to remove all those detainees from the city jail. (10) The governments in Austin, TX, in Sacramento County, CA, in Springfield, Oregon, and in Alexandria, Virginia – all of them ended contracts with ICE and will no longer accept a ransom to kidnap their residents. (11) And Kalamazoo County right here in Michigan has also passed a resolution to not work with ICE.

Chair: I appreciate these examples and these points.  We know that the commission can use financial and legal means to end this contract. Will ending the contract really stop the harm ICE is doing in Kent County?

Public (together): YES!

Public 2:  It will show every immigrant resident that Kent County stands with them. 

  • Ending the Contract is the right thing to do! And you can do more! 
  • You can pass a resolution that says the County will not use any of their resources to support ICE.
  • You can make the County a Sanctuary for all immigrants, just like Ann Arbor and Detroit have done.
  • You can support the work of GR Rapid Response to ICE, who gets calls every week from families – you can help them to interrupt ICE and to support families who have been harmed by ICE.
  • You can pass another resolution to support state legislation that would allow drivers licenses for all.

Commissioner 1: I propose that we draft a resolution to end the contract and provide better support to our immigrant neighbors!

Commissioner 2: And I want to thank the public for all this engagement and for this great information.  We are listening!  With all the public engagement on this issue, I propose that we schedule our meetings during the evening, to allow more people to participate.  And we should change the process so that there can be a dialogue between the public and the commissioners during the public comment period.

Public (together): YES!

[New Resolution is provided – Chair reads aloud.  Chair calls a vote.  Commission Votes and Passes – Commissioners sign.]

Chair: [announces next steps] I call this meeting to a close.  Let’s celebrate!

The People’s Commission organizers fully expected to be led out of the commission meeting by law enforcement, which never happened. instead, Kent County Commissioner Saalfeld made the decision to adjourn the meeting, which allowed the People’s Commission to stay and complete their action.

When people returned to Calder Plaza, they found out that the County had moved their meeting to another location, but prevented some members of the public from entering. In various news stories, the commission claimed they were acting within their right to move the meeting and prevent people from entering, but those involved in the action believe this violates the open meetings act.

Once the End the Contract campaign people came back to Calder Plaza, there was a brief celebration, which also consisted of the People’s Commissioners signing the new resolution with added action steps mentioned above.

The police presence was still significant at the Calder Plaza, most with cops on bicycle. As people left to go to their cars in the city ramp, the cops on bike followed them, thus continuing to demonstrate a low level of surveillance and harassment that has been consistent with Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response organizing over the past eighteen months.

What follows are sources cited in the People’s Commission proceedings:


The Gateways for Growth Project: findings presented on September 12 at Cesar Chavez Elementary

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