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Immigrant Justice groups rally at the Kent County Jail and Demand an end to the ICE Contract

August 24, 2019

Earlier today, about 50 people marched to the Kent County Jail to demand that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department end their contract with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Kent County Sheriff’s Department has had a contract with ICE since 2012.

The rally was organized by members of GR Rapid Response to ICE and Movimiento Cosecha GR, both of which have been working to end the contract since June of 2018.

Those who participated in the march were encouraged to go inside the jail. The crowd did come into the jail and began to chant for an End to the ICE Contract, fully expecting that the Sheriff’s Department or the GRPD would ask them to leave. Neither law enforcement agency showed up, so the organizers decided to hold their brief program in the lobby of the jail. This writer asked someone how it felt to be in that space, which is usually space that is frequented by families coming to see those who are being held in the jail or for those who are attempting to bond people out. “It felt liberating to be in here, making noise and disrupting the jail staff,” said one person who had never done anything like this before. It is important for social movements to take over or reclaim spaces that are the sites of oppression. Being in spaces like the jail can signal to people that they do have power, that they don’t need to sheepishly obey the dictates of those in authority and that these kinds of actions can help foster the kind of radical imagination we need to overthrown systems of oppression.

The program that took place inside the jail consisted of three different speakers. The first person to speak was Rosa, who shared her story about how her mom had been in the Kent County Jail because her license was expired. When Rosa’s mom was being processed out, ICE had already come into the jail and essentially took her into custody and then transported her to the Battle Creek detention facility. Ever since the Kent County Sheriff announced that they would be requiring a judicial warrant for ICE to put holds on people, ICE has shifted their tactics.

The next speaker, Nerida, was speaking on behalf of Movimiento Cosecha GR. Nerida also talked about how the ICE contract was impacting members of the immigrant community and why it needed to end. She spoke about the constant fear that her community experiences because of ICE. Nerida told those who had gathered for the rally to join the immigrant community in ending the ICE contract.

The last speaker was Karen, with GR Rapid Response to ICE. Karen read the following statement, which was an excerpt from a letter written by the legal counsel that represents the Sheriff’s Department:

Despite the declaration in January that the Sheriff’s Department would no longer hold immigrants in the Kent County Jail without a judicial warrant, the jail continues to cooperate with ICE. Here is an excerpt from a statement made by lawyers who represent Kent County. The statement was written in February, and regards a person who was seized by ICE on her release from the Kent County Jail.

The name of the person who was taken by ICE has been redacted to protect her identity.

Since the Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young instituted a policy that she will not detain anyone for ICE without a judicial warrant, ICE has opted to be present and take physical custody instead of seeking a judicial warrant . . . In the situation of Ms. X, she was being processed out of the KCCF [Kent County Correctional Facility] custody in the normal course following the resolution through bond of the local charges. Since there was an I-247-detainer request, it is part of the normal process that ICE is made aware an individual is being processed for release . . .  Prior to the completion of the normal processing-out procedure, an ICE officer appeared at the KCCF and took Ms. X into ICE custody and transported her to Calhoun County. Had the ICE officer not appeared prior to the completion of the release processing procedure, Ms. X would have left the KCCF without any restraint by the Kent County Sheriff Office. The Kent County Sheriff Office completed its processing out of Ms. X after she was taken into ICE custody.”

No matter what Kent County says about not holding immigrants without a judicial warrant, the fact is they continue to cooperate with ICE’s violent kidnapping of our immigrant neighbors and the separation of them from their community and families. The jail tells ICE when they are holding an undocumented immigrant. They alert ICE when that immigrant is being released from the jail. And they allow ICE inside the jail to seize that person–even before they have been processed out from the jail. 

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Kalamazoo, after a week or so of protests, signed a resolution to defund all collaboration with ICE. The Dearborn City Council just four days ago decided not to renew its prisoner housing contract with Calhoun County after anti-ICE activists protested and showed up to the city council meeting. 

It is time for Kent County to do the same, and show the immigrant community that it is welcome and safe here by not renewing this harmful and destructive contract.

After the brief program in the jail, the rally then marched to the administrative offices of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Upon arriving at the administrative building, someone read a statement written by GR Rapid Response to ICE. The statement was pointing out the reasons why having a contract with ICE was unjust, plus it demanded that the Kent County Sheriff end the contract with ICE, a contract that is scheduled to expire on September 30 of 2019. People then attached the document to the front door of the administrative office, as well as placing yard signs in the lawn in front of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department administrative building.

Before end the rally, organizers made some announcements of other upcoming actions, which included a phone zap starting on Monday, where people were encouraged to call the Sheriff’s office and demand an end to the contract with ICE. People then marched back to where the action had started, just a few blocks from the Kent County Jail.

 

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