Kent Co. expands reach to crime victims in Hispanic community

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office is working to expand its reach to victims of crime in the Hispanic community.

The prosecutor’s office is now offering on-site victim assistance at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in Grand Rapids. The idea was hatched by Roberto Torres, the executive director of the center, after he noticed a similar program in Toledo, Ohio.

The program was created during a time of uncertainty for the Latino community, in large part due to President Trump’s strong stance on immigration.

Just days after the election, Hispanic leaders reported an increase in hate speech and harassment. In February, local police tried to quell concerns that their officers were out looking for undocumented immigrants.

Now, Torres said some victims – whether in the United States legally or not – are afraid to go to court or seek out police to report crimes.

“In terms of somebody who is here illegally – they still are victims of a crime,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday. “Why do we reward people who are committing crimes by taking, removing the opportunity for victims to have them held accountable?”

Becker said the goal is to get justice for victims, pointing to the case of Shawn Jarrett, who was convicted in the 2015 murder of Berta Yolanda Reyes, an undocumented immigrant and mother of three.

“Let’s say, for example, that family was afraid to come to the court and afraid to report because of the climate. We’ve got a murderer and rapist out there and may not be held accountable,” Becker said.

One Friday a month, victim advocates will hold open office hours at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. They will help witnesses in a court case, explain how to report a crime, and explain what rights victims have, among other things.

Most of all, Becker said it’s about building relationships and keeping the community safe.

Deisy Madrigal, director of family support services for the Hispanic Center, agrees.

“I think that it’s very important to let everybody in the community know that their safety is number one,” she said.

Victims will have their privacy protected if they go to the center to seek help. Depending on demand, the program may expand to include more dates and times.

If you would like to learn more, call the center at 616.742.0200 or go online to hispanic-center.org.

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