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Movements and Moments: How We Are Winning the Fight Against ICE in Kent County

January 22, 2019

(Editor’s note: I am a member of both Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.)

Last week, Kent County made national news with the revelation that a man born in the US, who later served in the US military in Afghanistan, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Shortly after this news went national, the Kent County Sheriff held a press conference, stating that the Sheriff’s Department, “will no longer honor federal immigration holds without an arrest warrant signed by a judge.” 

Without a doubt, this is a significant win for the movement to pressure Kent County to End their Contract with ICE, in a campaign that began in June of 2018. After 6 months, it is worth taking a step back and reflecting on how we got to this moment.

Movements and Moments in the Fight Against ICE

We (whenever I say we, I am referring to Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE) first began planning to take action to end the contract, a contract that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has had since 2012, in the Spring of 2018. In March of 2018, no one was talking about the contract with Kent County, but when we first decided to make it a public issue last June, we could not have picked a better time.

Just weeks before we planned to go to the County Commission with our demands to end the contract, the issue of immigrant family separation and putting children in cages at detentions centers near the US/Mexican border was front page news. We seized this political moment, to not only draw attention to the fact that immigrant families were being separated right here in Kent County, but that the contract between ICE and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department was contributing to this harm.

Since late June of 2018, we have engaged in some two dozen actions to draw attention to ICE in Kent County. We have attended numerous Kent County Commission meetings, produced all kinds of media coverage and made our own media. We have conducted informational sessions on ICE and provided all kinds of educational resources to people in the community. Because of our organizing, thousands of people in the area now know about ICE and the contract with the county.

We have all sat in dozens of meetings in the past year, planning and strategizing over this issue. We have conducted trainings, collected signatures, raised funds for immigrant families, provides legal support and other forms of mutual aid.

In addition, we have worked with the ACLU and MIRC, several churches and a few non-profits, all of which have contributed to the effort to end the contract. I share all of this to say that, if it wasn’t for all of this effort, all of this energy and all of this commitment, the Sheriff’s Department would not have made the policy change they did last week. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department only acted because of the cumulative efforts we have engaged in over the past year.

This is the power of social movements. Social movements often do work that goes unrecognized, work that seems like it is getting no where, but then you have moments like last week and all of a sudden change can occur. In June we seized the moment when children in cages were headline news and last week, we seized the moment when a military veteran was detained by ICE. All of that happened because of the dedicated work being out into this campaign, by both Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Two weeks ago, when some of us were interviewed by MLive, after we attended a January 3rd County Commission meeting, the MLive reporter stated that it didn’t seem like we were making any progress with the County Commission. It’s because people often only see progress as something that those with power can make happen. The power of social movements demonstrates just the opposite. Social movements show that ordinary people can not only affect change, but pull back the curtain on how the power to change things is exists with movements not the political establishment.

We have also been hearing and reading that several other members of the County Commission are now calling for an end to the contract with ICE. We believe that these politicians didn’t come to this conclusion on their own, but because they have been pressured into making a decision that grew out of the will of the people.

When we first came to the Kent County Commission meeting in late June of 2018, we were dismissed and our demands were not taken seriously. We were told by Kent County Commissioners and administrators that this is a federal issue and that they could do nothing about immigration. We then heard from County officials that their hands were tied and that they were legally obligated to comply with federal agencies like ICE. The narrative with those in the County has changed little by little over the past several months and now some are calling for an end to the contract with ICE.

This is the power of radical imagination, which says that we don’t have to settle for mild reforms or political window dressing. The power of social movements has always demonstrated that through direct action we can achieve anything we set our collective minds to. And if we are honest about the history of the US, then we will eventually come to the conclusion that whatever gains we have made, whatever rights we have won, whatever institutional forms of oppression have been defeated, it has always been because of the power of social movements.

However, this fight is not over, so please join us this Thursday, January 24th at 8:30am and come to the Kent County Commission meeting to demand an end to the contract with ICE. In addition, join our larger work to provide support to immigrant families who have been impacted by ICE and to participate in the larger goal of abolishing ICE in Kent County.

La Lucha Sigue!

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