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Lawyers present case that Kent County doesn’t need to comply with ICE, yet majority of the Commissioners fail to take action

November 9, 2018

Yesterday, about 25 people working on the End the ICE contract with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department attended the morning meeting of the Kent County Commission.

Only a few of the organizers with Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE spoke about the contract during public comment. However, there were several representatives from the Western Michigan branch of the ACLU and MIRC (Michigan Immigrant Rights Center) who presented together, making it clear that Kent County was not legally obligated to comply with ICE, nor to continue the contract.

The legal arguments for why Kent County doesn’t have to comply with ICE was laid out in a letter sent to then Sheriff Stelma in late September, a letter you can read here.

In addition to their legal case, representatives from the ACLU and MIRC told the Kent County Commissioners and administrators that they have been circulating a letter in the community with clear demands about ending the contract with ICE and making Kent County a more welcoming community for immigrants. You can read and sign on to the letter here, and here are the list of demands presented in the letter:

We call on you, the County Commissioners, to pass a welcoming resolution for Kent County that does the following:

1. Proclaims that Kent County is a county that welcomes immigrants;

2. Calls on the Sheriff to end the contract with ICE and its voluntary and harmful practice of aiding ICE’s deportation efforts;

3. Prohibits any county funds from being used for federal immigration enforcement efforts; and

4. Commits to engage the community on other steps the county can take to make Kent County a more welcoming county.

The letter has been signed by community stakeholders including Justice for Our Neighbors, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, the Micah Center, Treetops Collective, Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids,  Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice, Joy Like a River United Church of Christ, Grand Rapids Rapid Response, and the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform.

At the end of the meeting, just before the commissioners adjourned, there were a few responses directed at the issue of the ICE contract. Comm. Melton spoke with some urgency about the need to do something, especially since the community has been coming before this commission for more than four months now.

Commissioner Talen made reference to the 2019 County Budget that was discussed earlier and he said he was struck by the language in the section of the budget about public safety (Sheriff’s Department and Jail) that the county should protect people, especially the most vulnerable. He then made the connection between the most vulnerable and the families impacted by ICE violence, but never agreed to take action or to honor the demands laid out by the ACLU, MIRC, Movimiento Cosecha GR or GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Commissioner Bulkowski then said what he and some others have been saying since June, which was that they need to go through the process of investigating the matter and establish a Task Force. This is problematic on several levels. First, suggesting that the county establish a Task Force completed dismisses the lived experiences of the immigrant community, which has been communicating with them since June about the harm that their families are enduring because of ICE. Second, establishing a Task Force minimizes the organized efforts of Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE, the ACLU and MIRC, which has been calling for an end to the ICE contract since June. All of these groups have done their due diligence, by taking testimony from hundreds of people impacted by ICE violence, documenting it, providing legal support for the families, mutual aid support and publicizing the ICE violence for the past 2 years. In addition, Chairperson Saalfeld said he was hesitant to establish a Task Force, since the Commissioners can’t dictate policy matters to the Sheriff’s Department. Saalfeld made these comments just minutes after the ACLU and MIRC made it clear that the county is under no legal obligation to comply with ICE.

Commissioner Womack was the last to respond to this issue, by stating that he was going to commit to writing up a draft of a Kent County Commission Resolution to call on the Sheriff’s Department to end the contract. It seems that the only person to hear what people have been saying for months and willing to take action, is the only commissioner of color.

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