GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police say they were forced to arrest seven people protesting Kent County’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On Thursday morning, about 100 protesters marched from the Kent County Commission chambers in downtown Grand Rapids down Ottawa Avenue NW, chanting “ICE out of Kent County” and carrying signs with messages including “abolish ICE now” and “ICE not welcome here.”
The Grand Rapids Police Department monitored the protest and blocked off roads to allow protesters to safely pass. Officers said a group carrying a banner ignored officers’ repeated orders to move out of the intersection of Michigan Street and Ottawa Avenue NW, at which point they were arrested.
Police say those arrested sat down in the intersection, endangering their own safety, as well as the safety of drivers and others who couldn’t get through for medical treatment at nearby hospitals.
All seven people arrested are adults, according to GRPD. They are charged with failing to comply with a lawful order and resisting and obstructing police.
REASON BEHIND THE PROTEST
Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapids Response to ICE said they organized the demonstration to demand an end to the county’s contract with ICE.
The groups first gathered at Calder Plaza to speak out about the treatment of immigrant families and their children by ICE and U.S. border patrol agents. From there, protesters went to the county commission meeting to voice their opposition to the contract.
Kent County commissioners suspended their meeting because of the protests. Several commissioners left the chambers while others stayed. Some even stood with the protesters.
Movimiento Cosecha GR protesters said that they feel illegal immigrants are being held unjustly by ICE and that the county should not aid the agency through the contracted partnership.
“I would definitely support getting out of that contract as fast as possible until ICE is doing what it was originally created to do and that was to help us fight terrorism and watch the people who come into this country that are a threat to this country, not to people seeking asylum in this country,” Commissioner Robert S. Womack told 24 Hour News 8.
The commission meeting resumed around 10 a.m.
Kent County spokeswoman Lisa LaPlante confirmed the county has a contract with ICE, the current version of which runs through September 2019. She said of the 23,455 people jailed for a crime, ICE requested 185 be detained. Those individuals were charged with a range of local crimes, from assault, child abuse and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, to having improper plates, an unregistered vehicle or an open container of alcohol.
LaPlante says the county received $17,935 for holding people for ICE a total of 210 days. The longest detention was three days, she said.
LaPlante said without the contract, the hold time would drop from 72 to 48 hours and ICE would have to transport detainees sooner.
According to LaPlante, the contract has no effect on the fingerprinting process, which is required by law. LaPlante said anyone arrested for a criminal act must be fingerprinted. She says those fingerprints are received by the FBI, which is required to share the prints with the Department of Homeland Security, which can trigger action by ICE.
Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma said he and his department are in charge of the contract and that commissioners don’t have the authority to make decisions about it.
Stelma said he feels obligated to participate.
“We don’t have the opportunity to pick and choose which laws we like and which laws we’re going to enforce,” Stelma told 24 Hour News 8 after the meeting. “I have to honor all law enforcement agencies.”
He said his agency has not seen a large increase in the number of people brought in by ICE under the Trump administration.
The sheriff agreed with protesters that change is needed in how the United States handles immigrants.
“That is the issue,” Stelma said emphatically. “Congress has to enact some major immigration reform.”