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A Momentary Celebration: ICE contracts, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and how systems of oppression make tactical adjustments

August 26, 2019

As we reported on Saturday, there was another direct action done at the Kent County Jail, calling for an end to the contract with ICE. 

Since the action on Saturday, the Kent County Sheriff’s office has released a statement that was reported on WOOD TV 8, which said:

“The current contract with ICE will expire on September 30, 2019 as ICE is not seeking to renew the agreement,” Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said in a statement Sunday. “In January of this year, we adjusted our protocols within the correctional facility to manage the way we handled ICE requests for detainees. We have thoroughly evaluated this policy and determined it to be effective in protecting the community and in the safe and fair handling of persons of interest to ICE. Therefore, we intend to keep it as part of our standard operating procedure. As a result of the addition of our January protocol, ICE informed my office they would not be seeking a renewal of the contract. The Kent County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work collaboratively with ICE, as we do with all law enforcement agencies, to ensure public safety, due process, and the rule of law for all people in Kent County.”

There are several important responses to this statement.

The Power of Social Movements

First, GR Rapid Response to ICE and Movimiento Cosecha GR, the groups that have been fighting to end the contract between ICE and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, are both acknowledging that since ICE does not want to renew their contract with the county, that this is a victory for the immigrant justice movement in West Michigan. Furthermore, it must be said that everything that has happened around the ICE contract in the past 14 months has been due to the important work that GR Rapid Response to ICE and Movimiento Cosecha GR has done.

When the Kent County Sheriff said that ICE needed to obtain a judicial warrant in order to put holds on immigrants at the jail, this was due to the pressure of this movement. The fact that ICE has decided to not renew their contract with the county, this is also due directly to the work done over the past 14 months. And it should be stated that this work has included disrupting County Commission meetings, speaking at County Commission meetings, doing incredible education work in the community, holding rallies at the Kent County Jail, pressuring the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, circulating petitions, organizing marches and generating a great deal of news coverage, both local and national.

When Systems of Oppression Push Back

Second, it is also important to note that ICE is the one that has made the decision to not renew the contract with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Back in March, both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security both condemned the county for their decision to require judicial warrants. ICE referred to Kent County’s decision to require judicial warrants as a “Sanctuary Policy.” 

It is extremely important that we understand that the decision by ICE to not renew its contract with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department is a tactical shift on the part of ICE. Whenever movements for social justice make gains, systems of power and oppression will push back and make adjustments to further their power. For example, when chattel slavery was abolished in the US, white supremacist institutions adjusted by passing Jim Crow laws as a way of punishing and criminalizing the black community. Another example would be how corporations who have been under attack for their awful environmental practices have decided to practice green capitalism, which attempts to present companies as environmentally friendly, when in fact their very existence does harm to the environment.

And this is exactly what ICE is doing in Kent County. Yes, it is a victory for the immigrant justice movement that ICE does not want to renew their contract with the Sheriff’s Department. However, as we also pointed out in the article about the rally at the jail on Saturday, ICE has shifted their tactic to coming into the jail and apprehending undocumented immigrants who were in the process of getting out of the Kent County Jail, thus circumventing the need for a contract. The decision by ICE to come into the jail and then apprehend undocumented immigrants who were there for some minor offense, like an expired drivers license, makes complete sense. ICE is hoping that those who have been resisting the harm they have been doing in Kent County will feel like without a formal contract those resisting will just give up. 

This brings us to the third point we want to make, a point which is reflected at the end of the statement made by the Kent County Sheriff’s office, when they stated:

“The Kent County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work collaboratively with ICE, as we do with all law enforcement agencies, to ensure public safety, due process, and the rule of law for all people in Kent County.”

Such a statement demonstrates how morally bankrupt the Kent County Sheriff’s Department really is. In other words, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department will do nothing to prevent ICE from apprehending undocumented immigrants who are in the process of getting out of the jail, AND in fact, they will cooperate fully with ICE to make sure that undocumented immigrants will be treated as criminals. Of course, the complicity that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department is guilty of with Immigration and Customs Enforcement has nothing to do with “public safety” or the “rule of law,” as suggested in the Sheriff’s statement.

Therefore, it is important that we understand that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department is enabling ICE to continue to terrorize the immigrant community in West Michigan. And once we understand this, we must continue to fight against ICE violence, we must continue to expose the complicity of the Kent County Sheriff’s office and we must continue to engage in organized resistance against this matrix of violence by adopting the only rational approach, which is to ABOLISH ICE.

If you are not already involved in the work of GR Rapid Response to ICE or Movimiento Cosecha GR, then by all means, join this movement for immigrant justice. If you are already involved in the work, then we thank you for the victory of ending the contract between ICE and Kent County, but we implore you to continue in the work to resist and Abolish ICE in this community. 

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