Activists walk out on Kent County ICE contract talk

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Activists sat down with Kent County leaders Monday to demand the county jail end a contract with federal immigration authorities, but the meeting didn’t have a very productive outcome.

Activists with Movemiento Cosecha, a group pushing for immigration reform nationwide, met with some Kent County commissioners and a chief deputy with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department at the Department of Human Services building in Grand Rapids.

The activists are asking for immediate action from county leaders in ending the contract the Kent County jail has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Among other things, the contract provides payment from ICE for the jail to house inmates being held in connection to illegal immigration.

Critics of the arrangement say the contract makes Kent County complicit in ICE’s activities, which they say unfairly target Latinos and tear families apart while enforcing the Trump administration’s hardline policies.

“As long as this contract remains in place, Kent County, its sheriff’s department, and its board of commissioners are complicit in ICE’s ongoing violence against our local immigrant communities,” Sergio Cira of Cosecha Grand Rapids said in a written statement following the meeting.

Kent County sheriff’s officials said that little would change absent the contract, which was first signed in 2012. They say the county would not get paid for detaining ICE inmates but that the jail would still be required to hold those inmates.

Still, opponents say getting out of the contract would be an important symbolic move toward their cause.

“Even if we can’t give them what they want … I would hope other commissioners would understand that they’re very genuine,” Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack, who is among the commissioners who support ending the contract, said at the meeting. “If they don’t stand up now, where is this going to go?”

Activists left the meeting as the law enforcement leaders explained the details of the contract and its implications.

“Are you going to end the contract or not?” one activist said shortly before the group began to exit the room.

The county officials kept speaking with one another after the activists left. They vowed to continue the discussion but said any change will take time.

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