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Kent County’s Immigration Focus group has little immigrant involvement, no transparency: Who are they accountable to?

April 9, 2019

When Movimiento Cosehca GR and GR Rapid Response was pressuring Kent County Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Department to end the contract with ICE, the best we could get out of some commissioners was that they would set up a “focus group” to look into the concerns of immigrant.

Of course, this had little to do with the demand to end the contract that ICE had with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. First, calling for an immigrant “focus group” was dismissive of the evidence that was provided from the two groups demanding the end of the contract, which included testimony from the affected community.

Second, holding an immigration “focus group” is significantly broader focus than the demand to end the contract, which specifically impacted the undocumented immigrant community. Some members of the Kent County Commission kept saying that they wanted to invite people from the immigrant community to sit down and have a conversation with the Sheriff’s Department, so that they could build trust. Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE kept saying that those most impacted by current ICE practices live in fear of law enforcement and would not likely meet with law enforcement, especially since local law enforcement has been cooperative with ICE arrests and detentions in Kent County.

The other issue with the immigration focus group is the lack of transparency. When people attending a Kent County Commission meeting in January, we heard that they planned to begin meeting. I have yet to find anything online about the meetings, who is attending and what topics are being discussed.

I wrote to the Kent County Commissioner who represents my district, Stephen Wooden, and he responded by saying that he is happy to look into it. He also shared video from the March 28, Kent County Commission meeting and towards then end Commissioner Sparks did mention that the group has meet once.

Commissioner Sparks stated that those in attendance besides herself, were the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, Comm. Talen, Comm. Womack, Commissioner Antor, the County Administrator, someone from the County’s communication staff and members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Comm. Sparks stated, they had “a very inspirational meeting,” that it was a great discussion and “very positive.”

This was not much of a report back, it doesn’t inspire confidence in the county commission and it says that a conversation about immigration was mostly attended by people not from the immigrant community and not likely someone from the undocumented community, since the only non-governmental voices were from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Hispanic Chamber of commerce is not exactly representative of the immigrant community (check out who sits on their board), especially those who live in fear of ICE and law enforcement. 

In many ways this immigration focus group is what many of us expected and it has relatively nothing to do with what Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE had confronted the County Commission on since last June.

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