Kent Co. Commission meeting adjourned after disruption from ICE protesters

Posted at 6:55 AM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 18:25:43-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Hundreds of people protested at a Kent County Commission Board meeting Thursday morning, calling for leaders end the Kent County Jail contract with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).

The protesters including Movimiento Cosecha GR said they planned the rally because they believe the county is profiting from this partnership, but according to Kent County officials and Sheriff Larry Stelma that is not the case.

"The county is not financially incentivized to participate with ICE, no," said Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma after the meeting Thursday.

Kent County Commissioners suspended the meeting after protesters stopped another resident speaking about a different topic during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"I understand it’s a federal issue, but I also understand that you have a voice and power and I need you to hear that our community cannot sit back and simply wait in your silence," said Reverend Justo Gonzalez II, Southwest Area Minister for United Church of Christ, who spoke first to the Commission before protests broke out.

After the Kent County Commission meeting, the group marched to the Grand Rapids ICE office on Ottawa Avenue. Grand Rapids Police say seven protesters were arrested for blocking traffic at the intersection of Ottawa and Michigan.

Michigan does not grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants so organizers of this rally say that traffic offenses are one of the main reasons some people end up in Kent County Jail, and then they are being taken from their families by ICE.

According to Kent County officials once someone enters any correctional facility, it is required to take the inmate's fingerprint which is then shared with the FBI and ICE.

The contract ensures that ICE reimburses the sheriff's office for every undocumented immigrant they arrest.

Last year, county officials say they made nearly $18,000 from the partnership, of the jail's $36 million budget that year, which is why protestors believe it's encouraging police officers to make more arrests.  County officials, however, report that this isn't true.

"It is a minimal number; however, they’re all human beings, they all deserve to be treated with humanity and respect," said Sheriff Stelma.

"I understand the emotion, and we all care about people, but we also have an oath of office and responsibility to enforce the laws of this country and the laws of the state of Michigan. And we have to balance our heart and our head."

The current contract runs through September 2019.