GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Family members are furious that a U.S. citizen and military veteran ended up in an immigration detention center, facing the threat of deportation.
Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was born and raised in Grand Rapids. His mother says he served a tour in Afghanistan while in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He was arrested in November after allegedly setting a fire at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, pulling the fire alarm and somehow making it onto the helipad.
He was set to be released from the Kent County jail on a personal recognizance bond on Dec. 14, but instead, he was picked up and taken to the Calhoun County Jail for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I almost had a heart attack when I heard that my son was in immigration’s hands,” his mother Maria Gomez said Wednesday. “They don’t care what he did for his country. That makes me mad.”
Kent County Undersheriff Chuck DeWitt told 24 Hour News 8 that Ramos-Gomez was kept in custody because ICE wanted him. DeWitt said the department was required under its contract with ICE to tell the federal agency that Ramos-Gomez was about to be released.
“If you want to look at a timeline, we’re looking at from November 21st, when he first came to our facility on local charges, until December 14th,”DeWitt said. “61 minutes later (after the jail was notified of the bond), the ICE 203 (hold) comes into play and now Mr. Ramos-Gomez is under federal authority, ICE authority, and he is picked up by Calhoun County.”
ICE said in a Wednesday statement released through the sheriff’s department that it flagged Ramos-Gomez for detention because he told ICE officials during a Nov. 23 interview that he was a foreign national and was in the country illegally.
ICE said it didn’t find out until Dec. 17, when Ramos-Gomez’s lawyer called them, that he was an American. He was released.
In a Wednesday night email to 24 Hour News 8, ICE official Vincent Picard said no employees will be suspended and there will be no investigation.
“Officers acted in good faith with the information they had available at the time,” he wrote, denying wrongdoing.
When asked why ICE was questioning Ramos-Gomez in the first place, Picard said it’s not uncommon for ICE officers to talk to suspects in police custody. He said Ramos-Gomez said repeatedly that he was in the country illegally.
But Ramos-Gomez’s mom said he had his passport and identification on him when ICE took him.
“I started to cry bitterly. I said, ‘I can’t believe this.’ Besides, my son fought for this country,” Maria Gomez said in Spanish, speaking through a translator.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan Immigration Rights Center have joined Ramos-Gomez’s family attorney in demanding answers from the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and ICE. The organizations wrote a letter and asked for an explanation at the Kent County Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 24 meeting.
The ACLU and MIRC say this case is an example of why Kent County should end its contract with ICE, which immigration advocacy groups like Movemiento Cosecha GR have been demanding for months.
“This is precisely the type of incident that we warned would happen and unfortunately now it has,” said Hillary Sholten of MIRC.
“What’s terribly sad about this situation is that it’s also utterly, utterly predictable,” said Miriam Auckerman, a senior attorney at the ACLU of Michigan.
In a statement, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department said it wasn’t told about the mix-up until Tuesday. It said it was looking into the situation, but that a preliminary review didn’t find any violations of policy.
Ramos-Gomez is now getting mental health treatment.
**Correction: A previous version of this article stated Ramos-Gomez was arrested Dec. 14. He was actually arrested Nov. 21 and set to be released Dec. 14. We regret the error, which has been corrected.