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Kent County Candidates at Latino Community Coalition forum are asked about ICE Contract

October 24, 2018

The Latino Coalition hosted a community forum last night at Lee High School, where candidates from several districts in the urban core of Grand Rapids, the ones with larger Latino/Latinx population resides.

They invited a total of ten candidates, but only six of them showed up. Four of the candidates were incumbents and 2 were challengers. There was also a low community turnout, with an estimated 25 people in attendance.

The Latino Coalition has been hosting similar candidate forums in recent years in order to provide greater opportunity for Latino/Latinx residents to be informed about candidate positions and to press candidates on issues that are of greater importance to the Latino/Latinx community.

There were several questions posed to the candidates, but what this writer was most interested in had to do with how they felt about the contract that the Sheriff’s Department has with ICE. What follows is a summary of what was said.

Mike Johnson who is running to be on the Kent County Commission said the contract should end now. Robert Womack said the contract should end immediately because this is what the community has asked of the commission. Womack also said that the county has millions of dollars in surplus and can afford to lose whatever money the jail gets from the current ICE contract. Commissioner Womack also said that the county does a terrible job when it comes to how they interact with minority communities.

The other person who is running to be elected for the first time, Joel Townsend, said he was not in favor of ending the contract, although he suspects that the county does not have to legal cooperate with ICE.

All the other current County Commissioners – Bulkowski, Talen and Hennessy, all said that they would not sign the commitment to end the contract that has been presented to them by Movimiento Cosecha GR, but that they would be willing to work with the community to end the contract. None of the commissioners were very clear about how they would help to end the contract, but they all made a point to say that it was complicated.

What does seems clear is that the want to set up a task force to look into the matter before taking any action. This is what those who have been involved with the campaign to end the contract with ICE have heard since the very first meeting in late June, yet no task force has been established and none of the commissioners provided a timeline for when that might even begin.

One commissioner said that ending the contract was symbolic and that it wouldn’t do what people were asking for. We have heard this over and over again and the response from Movimiento Cosecha GR and the GR Rapid Response to ICE has been, “we know that ending the contract will not stop ICE from taking members of the immigrant community. However, it will send a strong message to ICE and the affected community that the county will not be complicit with ICE repression. In addition, it will go a long way to improving the County’s relationship with the immigrant community, which right now is based on a lack of trust.”

In addition, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE has made it clear for over a month now that what they were demanding has expanding to more than just ending the contract with ICE. Since the September 13 County Commission meeting, this is what they are demanding:

  • Ending the Contract with ICE
  • Pass a resolution that says the County will not use any of their resources to support ICE, which includes ending the holds that ICE requests.
  • Make the County a Sanctuary for all immigrants, just like Ann Arbor and Detroit have done.
  • 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.
  • Pass another resolution to support state legislation that would allow drivers licenses for all.

To watch the video of the Latino Community Coalition candidate forum, go to their Facebook page and in the videos section the forum is the fist one you can click on. The question about the ICE contract begins about 28 minutes into the forum.

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