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Information obtained from FOIA reveals that ICE put holds on immigrants at the Kent County Jail for driving without a license and other local charges

October 16, 2018

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article on page A9 entitled, Most ICE detainees arrested on local charges. 

The article, written by Michael Kransz, is based on data obtained by the Grand Rapids Press because of a FOIA. The data looks numbers from 2017, some of which was known previously, but now there is more evidence to support the claims of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.

For months now, the local campaign to end the ICE contract that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has had since 2012, has argued that many of the charges brought against the immigrant community are for non-violent offenses, yet these charges often end with ICE putting a hold on the immigrants.

The Grand Rapids Press article states:

Protesters have argued the county’s contract and cooperation with ICE incentives racial profiling of Latinos and the number of immigrants arrested for minor infractions or nonviolent crimes, thereby exposing them to deportation.

ICE argues its work focuses on those who “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Walls said in an email. He added that other “classes or categories of removable aliens” aren’t exempted.

It is interesting that the Press cites an ICE official, but doesn’t cite directly someone with Movimiento Cosecha GR or GR Rapid Response to ICE, even though both groups have made themselves available to the news media since the campaign to end the contract began in late June.

The GR Press article continues by giving a breakdown of the charges against immigrants that has led to a detainer request from ICE in Kent County. Not that few of the charges would fall under the categories of “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

The top six arresting charges last year were:

  • Driving with a suspended license: 37
  • Domestic violence: 31
  • Operating while intoxicated: 28
  • False information to a police officer: 7
  • Assault or attempt to assault a police officer: 5
  • No driver’s license or never applied: 5

This new data confirms what members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE have been saying since June, that the immigrant community is being targeted by ICE for minor and non-violent offenses, such as not having a drivers license. Therefore, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department contract with ICE not only contributes to the separation of immigrant families, it unnecessarily causes harm and trauma to that community.

In addition, based on a letter sent to retiring Sheriff Larry Stelma in late September, the County is not legally obligated to have a contract with ICE or even hold immigrants that ICE has requested a detainer for. As the letter from MIRC and the ACLU states: 

In sum, detainers are optional. They are simply requests, not mandates, from ICE for a local law enforcement entity to hold an individual beyond the time she or he otherwise would have been released from local custody. Your office has the option to stop this practice at any time.

I spoke with volunteer organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR, Gema Lowe, who had this to say about the new information obtained through a FOIA:

All along we have been saying that mobility and to be able to driver and take a test has no connection to one’s immigration status. People are able to drive in MI should be able to get a drivers license. This data confirms what we have been saying all along and that separating families is not justified because people don’t have a drivers licenses. If there is an incentive for officers to pull people over, it’s an economic incentive to profile people who look like they might be an immigrant. And this is exactly why we need to end the ICE contract with the Sheriff’s department. It is the right thing to do and it will mean that they will no longer be comp0licit with this violence,If they really want to build trust with the immigrant community, then this is the step that they would take.

Movimiento Cosecha GR is currently working on a statewide campaign to obtain drivers licenses for all, in addition to resisting ICE violence in Kent County, along with the group GR Rapid Response to ICE.

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