Kent Co. sheriff changes ICE policy after veteran detained

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Immigration officials’ errant detention of a Marine who served in Afghanistan has led to international outrage and a change by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department in how it deals with cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

No longer will the Kent County jail hold people in custody based only on the request of the agency alone. Now, immigration detainment requests will have to be signed by a federal judge or magistrate. The basic probable cause standard used in every other area of law enforcement will now be applied to ICE, at least in Kent County. 

“We have tremendous concern over this investigation and the reason they used to hold this particular person. Again, that’s why we’re advocating for a judicial review, a second set of eyes to look at the case,” said Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young who announced the new policy during a news conference Friday afternoon. 

The move comes after the situation involving 27-year-old Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, who 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 ICE, which used a detainment request. 

Ramos-Gomez spent three days at the Calhoun County Jail, facing deportation proceedings. He was released after Ramos-Gomez’ mother contacted an attorney who provided proof of his U.S. citizenship to ICE. 

LaJoye-Young said she shared the outrage of the Ramos-Gomez family regarding the situation. 

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department’s move is garnering praise from those who have been critical of the county’s contract with ICE. 

“What the sheriff has done today has been a significant and much welcome change to that policy,” said Hillary Scholten, staff attorney for the Michigan Immigration Center. 

The Sheriff said it was the Grand Rapids Police Department that turned the case over to ICE. Friday, Grand Rapids police officials refused to go on camera to answer questions, but released a statement saying the GRPD contacted the FBI and ICE because it believed Ramos-Gomez’s actions in November were a possible act of terrorism. The GRPD said contacting federal agencies about potential acts of terrorism is protocol and part of the department’s policy.

Interim Police Chief David Kiddle elaborated in a video on Facebook:

“In the interests of public safety and because there was a risk to federal airspace, we contacted federal authorities including the FBI’s joint Terrorism Taskforce and ICE,” he said.

Kiddle added that the department continues to abide by its stated policy that “safety — not immigration status — is our No. 1 priority.” 

“This case is a real example of the kinds of errors that can happen as a result of the fact that no judge has ever looked at this,” said Miriam Aukerman, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Michigan.

The attorneys say judicial oversight could have ended this because there was clear proof Ramos-Gomez was a U.S. citizen. 

“I did go down to the police department today to collect Jilmar’s belongings for him and right there in his belongings was his United States citizen passport,” Scholten said. 

The attorneys say this was simply and plainly racial profiling and evidence of ICE’s abuse of power. 

“Let this be a wake-up call across the country for other jurisdictions to follow suit and end this terrible practice,” Scholten said. 

ICE is also refusing interview requests but issued an e-mail statement saying they did everything by the book and that Ramos-Gomez was telling them he was here illegally. ICE official Vincent Picard said no employees will be suspended and there will be no investigation.

Meanwhile, Ramos-Gomez is at home recovering from the situation which only served to exacerbate the PTSD he developed while serving the country that detained him for possible deportation.

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