Sheriff: ICE letting contract with Kent County run out

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Sheriff’s Department says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has chosen not to keep up a contract with the county that has been the subject of several protests.

Under the contract in question, the county jail has held inmates in connection to illegal immigration.

In a Sunday statement, Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young wrote that “ICE is not seeking to renew” the contract after it expires Sept. 30. She said ICE cited a January change in procedure as its reason.

That new policy requires a warrant signed by a federal judge before her department will hold people for ICE. Previously, the jail would hold someone on a request from the agency without a court order. The change came after a U.S. citizen — a Marine veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress — was wrongfully detained by ICE for three days in late 2018.

LaJoye-Young said her department has decided the new policy is “effective in protecting the community and in the safe and fair handling of persons of interest to ICE,” so it’s going to stay in place.

The sheriff’s statement was released following a protest at the sheriff’s office on Saturday. Dozens of demonstrators from the group GR Rapid Response marched around the building urging officials to ditch the contract.

Event organizer Karen Meyers went as far as to tape the group’s formal demands to the front door of the office. She said it was time for the county to act.

“No more complicity with ICE. There’s no reason for that contract to exist. Just as Kalamazoo and Dearborn have ended their contracts, Kent County should do the same,” Meyers said.  

A photo of the list of  GR Rapid Response to ICE's demands taped on the door of the Kent County Sheriff's Office. (Aug. 24, 2019)
A photo of the list of GR Rapid Response to ICE’s demands taped on the door of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office. (Aug. 24, 2019)

Opponents of the contract have previously protested at county commission meetings.

“There’s ICE violence at the border but what’s not always caught is the violence that happens right in our neighborhoods so we need to hold those accountable,” Quinn Burke with GR Rapid Response said Sunday.

The community action group works to inform undocumented families of their rights and to help them navigate life if a family member is deported. 

The group says it has been pushing for the end of the contract for 15 months.

“As long as ICE exists, immigrants will not feel safe,” Burke said. “So if Kent County wants to truly be a welcoming city, a welcoming Grand Rapids for all people, they need to end all complicity with ICE.”

The sheriff’s department says it plans to continue working collaboratively with ICE, as it does with all law enforcement. Protesters say they plan to continue pushing back against the department’s interactions with ICE.

The sheriff’s full statement:

“The current contract with ICE will expire on September 30, 2019 as ICE is not seeking to renew the agreement. 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.”

—News 8’s Whitney Burney contributed to this report.

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