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Documents from FOIA request about Kent County ICE Contract reveal several important points

November 12, 2018

(A special thanks to Amy Carpenter for submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the documents pertaining to the Kent County ICE Contract.)

Recently, someone working with Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE requested that the county release documents regarding the Sheriff’s Department contract with ICE, beginning with the lead up to the June 28th action at the Kent County Commission meeting, all the way up to the County segregating the public to a different room during their regular meeting schedule.

The documentation includes a great deal of repetitive content, since the e-mails include certain threads between county commissioners and county administration staff. However, there are several things that are instructive when reading the FOIA requested documents.

First, it is instructive that county officials (referring to staff, commissioners and Sheriff’s Dept.) began by stating that the ICE contract is a federal matter and that there is nothing they can do about it. From there, the language changed to “it is the Sheriff’s Department that has the contract,” and eventually the demand to end the ICE contract “will not achieve what your group wants to do.” There was clearly an evolution to how county officials responded to the demands to end the ICE contract.

Second, it was clear from numerous exchanges between county officials that they were clearly monitoring Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE and GRIID articles about the campaign to end the contract. On a June 14 communication between County Administrator Britt and Commissioner Saalfeld, Britt states, “It is strictly a Sheriff policy issue but it’s germane to the County Board because we are the funding unit that equips him with the jail. However, we can stop anyone from using public comment to politicize an issue.” Numerous commissioners have denied any relationship between the county budget and the ICE contract, even though it seems that Britt makes that point pretty clear. It’s also interesting how he is suggesting that they want to “stop anyone from using public comment to politicize an issue.” What else could public comment about the ICE contract be other than political?

County Administrator Britt does send out a message (June 29) just after the June 28 County Commission meeting, with a message that was vetted through corporate counsel, about what happened at the June 28 meeting. The meeting was ended “to ensure the safety of all individuals in the room.” This is ridiculous, since no one who came to that meeting was a threat to anyones safety. The only threat came from armed officers who threatened to remove people from the room.

In preparation for the July County Commission meeting, county officials wanted to make it clear that they were going to include some new protocols in response to the June 28 meeting, by dictating and controlling how public comment would go and how the physical space would be organized, as you can see from their comments below.

On pages 45 – 48 of the FOIA documents, regarding the August 23rd Commission meeting, county officials provide justification for their suspension of the meeting and moving it to another building.

On page 55 of the FOIA documents, we see that a staff person with Michigan Senator Gary Peters was at the July Kent County Commission meeting. It was agreed that Chairperson Saalfeld would not introduce the staffer with Sen. Peters, rather he just wanted to listen and observe. There was no further information or correspondence with Sen. Peters’ office in the FOIA documents.

On page 64, one County administrator states, “The County and its Commissioners remaining willing to discuss the issues and the limited ability of the County to influence the federal immigration law, but the recent vandalism and trespassing at the County Board Chair’s home and further disruption at the today’s meeting did not foster collaboration or cooperation.” There was no vandalism at Chairman Saalfeld’s home, just numerous signs left challenging him to end the contract with ICE.  If there was vandalism or trespassing the police would have arrested people, but no one was arrested despite significant police presence. In regards to the disruption at the July County Board meeting, the groups that have organized these actions have made it very clear that until the county ends their complicity with ICE violence, there will be disruptions at the meetings, because the mild inconvenience of meetings being disrupted is nothing compared to how the lives of immigrants are being disrupted every day in this community. 

This sentiment from county administrators is continued on page 65 when they state, “If they want to solely protest without listening and dialoguing it will be a disappointment.” Well, representatives from Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE did meet with County officials at a separate gathering in early August, but despite the information shared about the ongoing violence being done to the immigrant community, the County officials present refused to even discuss any possibility of ending the contract with ICE.

On page 68, Commissioner Antor writes to County Administrators about his frustration with “protestors” and suggests that the county no longer allow signs in the commission meetings or bullhorns and any disruptive behavior. He also states that the county should put out a statement on the FACTS about the ICE contract to “dispel all the hyperbole and misinformation.” This same commissioner was recorded at a later meeting engaging in his own propaganda that was merely parroting the Trump administration positions on immigration. 

On page 70 we finally learn about the fact that some county officials were setting up a separate meeting that did not include those organizing the end the contract campaign, where the sheriff and undersheriff were present.

Beginning on page 75, we see the first information about the decision of the County Board Chair to suspend the September 13th meeting because of the People’s Commission that was held in the commission chambers. On page 77, the FOIA documents show that the county once again was monitoring the campaign’s Facebook page and quoting it at length.

On page 81, Chairman Saalfeld makes his feelings known in a short rant about those involved with the End the Contract campaign:

Interesting that he notes that he spoke with a news person off the record about how facts are distorted, which is interesting considering that the local news has continued to report on the campaign to end the ICE contract and has even provided information that challenges the County’s ongoing lack of taking people seriously.

On pages 89 – 90, there is correspondence from a resident in Ada that said they were praying for the county commissioners and Saalfeld said to let her know that “their prayers are greatly appreciated.”

On page 97 there is an e-mail from Comm. Bulkowski asking if there has been any discussion about setting up a meeting between “the Sheriff and the Hispanic community.“ He then goes on to say, “I tam pretty confident that the few people who disrupt our meetings don’t represent the wider Hispanic community.” Then on page 104, Comm. Bulkowski goes on to say more about wanting to meet with the “Hispanic Community” and that groups like the Hispanic Chamber and the Hispanic Center should be invited to talk about these matters. This is further indication that the commissioners are dismissive of those involved with Movimiento Cosecha GR and the affected community that has continued to share their stories about the pain suffered by ICE violence.

Beginning with page 115 and continuing for several pages there is the county’s response/PR damage control in regards to their decision to not allow the public in the Commission chambers during the 2nd September meeting.

On Page 121, Comm. Saalfeld commends County Administrator Britt for his interview on WKTV and then states that the others interviewed indicates both some inaccurate facts and some things that are not understood. We of course have a much different perspective on the interviews. 

On page 128, Comm. Saalfeld sent another e-mail to County Administrator Britt, with a link to a GRIID article about the No Business With ICE Day action and the following comment.

“Maybe time to engage the GRPD.”

Saalfeld no doubt makes this comment because in the GRIID article cited and many of others, there has been a huge GRPD presence at anti-ICE actions. Since the Kent County Sheriff has stated repeatedly that they will not arrest people during County Commission meetings that Saalfeld wants to enlist the GRPD to deal with those who disrupt the commission meetings. 

While the documents based on the FOIA request don’t necessarily reveal anything significant, they are instructive as far as how the county views those involved in the end the contract campaign and how the disruptions have made some of them very uncomfortable moving forward.

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