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Local immigrant rights groups hold press conference over ICE detentions

Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE cohost a press conference decrying recent arrests by ICE in the Grand Rapids area and urged community members to attend a march on May 1, 2018.
Immigrant right supporters locking arms outside of Department of Homeland Security offices in Grand Rapids

Immigrant right supporters locking arms outside of Department of Homeland Security offices in Grand Rapids /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Entrance to Department of Homeland Security in Grand Rapids

Entrance to Department of Homeland Security in Grand Rapids

On Wednesday, April 25, Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE cohosted what they called an emergency press conference at the corner of Hastings and Ottawa on Grand Rapids' northwest side. 

About 20 people, both speakers and supportive protesters, gathered in front of the Department of Homeland Security offices.

Five people spoke, including Gema Lowe, Director of the Workers Center of West Michigan and Cosecha organizer; a man identified as Martin; Amy Carpenter from GR Rapid Response to ICE; Reverend Al Heystek from the United in Christ of Church, and Richard Kessler, an immigration lawyer.

Before the press conference began, while speakers and supporters were arriving, two ICE agents were parked in their Homeland Security vehicles, one on Hastings and one on Ottawa, keeping an eye on the proceedings. The officer parked on Ottawa talked to everyone coming from his direction, asking them if they’d paid the parking meters, or telling them they couldn’t park in certain lots because they were not guests.

Lowe began the conference by saying, “Thank you for coming everybody. Recently this week, we’ve had video where ICE is detaining people and snatching people out of their cars in a parking lot. And then after that I’ve received some calls from people being detained. Right now we in the community are outraged and angry that this is happening in our city. Those people who are being taken belong to us. They are a father, a worker, there’s a person that goes to church that’s being taken apart from their family. We need these people. Immigrants belong to our community.”

She continued, "People are being kidnapped from our community and asking a ransom of thousands of dollars for that person to come back into our community. This is an outrage. We as a community are going to march together and present this issue so that people in the community, so that people in Grand Rapids and West Michigan all together know that our comunity is standing with us. We are going to march together and not let ICE terrorize us like they have been doing."

Martin spoke in Spanish with great emotion, “Soy un imigranta a los Estados Unidos” or “I am an immigrant to the United States.” Translated by Lowe, he said, “I came here for a better future for me and my family. ICE is pushing and putting fear in our communities. There is no more fear, there is no more fear. There fear was left down in my home country. There’s no more fear. We need to stand together. We invited everyone to come march May 1st all together. We have strength in numbers."

During Martin’s statement, ICE interrupted to tell speakers and supporters on where to specifically stand on the sidewalk to allow pedestrians passage.

Carpenter read a statement in both English and Spanish saying, “The GR Rapid Response to ICE team is joining Cosecha in this stand against ICE violence and in support of these valued immigrant members of our community.  The Rapid Response mission is to mobilize allies to try to stop ICE from taking our valued neighbors away. If ICE comes to your door, do not open the door, and call 211 for help. We will try to intervene and witness; and we offer support for people who have been arrested, as well as their families. We offer support in many forms: court support, transportation, helping with income that may have been lost, and we even offer sanctuary for families afraid to stay in their homes. At the May 1 march, Rapid Response to ICE will be handing out cards that instruct people what to do if ICE comes to their door, and Rapid Response members will be present and ready to mobilize in defense of immigrants at the march.”

Reverend Al Heystek said, “I’m an ordained minister from the United Church of Christ, a tradition that has been an advocate for love and justice. I bring a lot of deep disappointment and sadness and pain about what’s happending and how families are separated from each other. I especially think about the pain for children, especially children who see their parents torn away by these policies."

Richard Kessler said, “I’ve been an immigration attorney in West Michigan for 36 years. What we’re seeing right now not only in West Michigan but nationally that so many people don’t know is how many families are being torn apart. What we’re seeing now in a policy that the federal government calls 'zero tolerance' which says that if we find you, and it doesn’t matter how we find you, it may be an unconstitutional stop, it may be taking you off a Greyhound bus...we will deport you, we will separate your family.”

Lowe concluded the press conference urging people in both English and Spanish to attend the Cosecha organized march on May 1, 2018.

“I want to emphasize our journey. When we go and demonstrate, it’s a right. Somebody already behind us, did this kind of thing as a movement, so that constitutionally we have a right under the first ammendment to gather together and protest. We exercise that right because somebody already fought for that right. It’s our turn to fight for immigrant rights so that in the future immigrants in our community can benefit from our fight.”

During the press conference, a Grand Rapids Police car drove by and stopped to talk to one of the ICE officers. The two ICE officers also came in closer and closer towards the group during the press conference standing within a yard or two to see what was going on.

At the end of the press conference, speakers and supporters linked arms in front of the ICE office and chanted, “Hasta La Huelga!” or “Until the Strike!” It’s a play on “hasta luego” which means “until I see you again,” urging community members to participate in the upcoming strike and march.

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