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He was born in the U.S. He's a Marine veteran. Immigration enforcement tried to deport him.

Photo courtesy of the family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez
Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez is a U.S. citizen. Born in Grand Rapids. He served in the Marines and saw combat in Afghanistan.

And last month federal immigration authorities took him into custody to face possible deportation.

Attorneys and immigration advocates in West Michigan are now demanding to know why, and how, this happened.

Ramos-Gomez’s mother sat a conference table yesterday, in her attorney’s office. In front of her, spread out across the table, were photos and documents of her son’s accomplishments. His high school diploma, a photo of him in the Marines’ dress blues, white cap, black brim pulled low.

"Yo me pusa llorar amargamente."

"I started to cry bitterly."

"Yo dije no puede creer."

"I said I can't believe this."
Her name is Maria Gomez-Velasquez. She remembers getting a call from her son, telling her he would be released from the Kent County jail. When she went to pick him up, a jail employee told her he’d just left, in a van filled with detainees held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE for short.

Her attorney, Richard Kessler helped interpret for her.

Ustedes no pueden saber que lo que yo sentí cuando yo salí afuera," she said

“You just can’t understand what I felt like when I went outside.”

Yo me pusa llorar amargamente."

“I started to cry bitterly.”

"Yo dije, no puede creer."

“I said I can’t believe this.”

She cried. She prayed. And then she called an attorney. It was a Friday. She says it took until Monday to get him out.

Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Maria Gomez-Velasquez holding a picture of her son Jilmar.

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez wasn’t at the law office yesterday. He hasn’t spoken to reporters. His mom says he’s currently getting treatment for his mental health issues – including PTSD – which she says he’s been coping with since returning home from Afghanistan.

Back in November, he was arrested by Grand Rapids police for trespassing onto the helipad area on the roof of a local hospital. He plead guilty to that charge, and a local judge ordered him released.

But instead of releasing him, the Kent County jail turned him over to the custody of ICE. The county did that based on a request from ICE, which claimed Ramos-Gomez was in the country illegally.

Richard Kessler, the attorney, is the one who called ICE to tell them they had a Marine war veteran locked up in their jail. He says he suspects Jilmar had told people all along he was a citizen. The Kent County jail confirms Ramos-Gomez told staff there he was born in the U.S.

“They seemed shocked when I called and sent these documents, that what he was saying was true,” Kessler says of the response from ICE officials.

"The review of the documents thus far have revealed all the policies and procedures were followed," says Kent County Undersheriff Chuck DeWitt.

A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not reply to a request for comment.

The Kent County Sheriff’s department says it’s investigating the incident. But Undersheriff Chuck DeWitt says if there was a mistake, the mistake seems to have been made by ICE.

“What we’ve done thus far is a review of the documents. And the review of the documents thus far have revealed all the policies and procedures were followed,” he says.

Policies were followed because in Kent County the policy is to cooperate with Immigration Enforcement whenever the agency makes a request to hold someone until they can get transferred to federal custody.

Counties don’t have to comply, but Kent County chooses to.

Attorneys, including Miriam Aukerman of the ACLU of Michigan have been warning for months that something almost exactly like what happened with Jilmar Ramos-Gomez could happen.

“What will it take?” Aukerman asks. “Did we really have to get to the point where a mentally ill combat veteran who served this country ends up locked up in immigration detention because of this policy of colluding with ICE?”

Undersheriff Charles Dewitt, says the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has no plans right now to stop cooperating with ICE.

Maria Gomez-Velasquez she still wants answers for why her son was held for deportation. She says the case has shaken her faith in law enforcement.  

“I don’t like that what they did to my son,” Gomez-Velasquez says. “Kent County need to wake up. They need to do their job.”

Do their job, she says, and follow the law.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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