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Kent County changes its policy on ICE requests after Marine veteran mistakenly detained

Photo courtesy of the family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department is changing its policy on cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That’s after ICE detained a Kent County resident and Marine combat veteran for possible deportation last month. The man, Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, is a U.S. citizen. He was handed over to ICE by the Kent County jail, after ICE sent a request to the jail to hold him.

"The Kent County Sheriff will hold detainees for ICE only after ICE presents to our office an arrest warrant signed by a federal judge or magistrate," said Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young.

Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young says she’s outraged by the incident.

“I notified ICE officials earlier today that the Kent County Sheriff will hold detainees for ICE only after ICE presents to our office an arrest warrant signed by a federal judge or magistrate,” she said at a press conference this afternoon in Grand Rapids.

Other counties in Michigan, including Wayne, Ingham and Kalamazoo counties already had these policies on cooperation with ICE.

Immigration advocates and civil rights attorneys have been pressuring Kent County for months to change as well. The requests from ICE are considered "administrative warrants" which are not reviewed by any outside agency.

Data from Syracuse University show that Kent County has received about 2,000 of these requests in the past decade, more than double the number of any other county in Michigan.

Last year, Sheriff LaJoye-Young defended the practice of cooperating with the requests, saying that ICE had the authority to detain people without getting a warrant signed by a judge.

“It’s not for us to determine if the legal process that congress set out is fair or if it’s appropriate or sufficient,” she said at the time.

Immigration advocates, including members of Movimiento Cosecha GR, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and the ACLU of Michigan all warned that holding suspects based solely on an ICE request, and not on a warrant reviewed by a judge, led to unnecessary harm, and could lead to mistakes.

In December, that’s just what happened, when Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was turned over to ICE custody and held for deportation for three days before his mother was able to hire an attorney to get him out.

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

This afternoon, Sheriff LaJoye-Young said she shares the outrage over what happened.

“Absolutely. Of course I do,” she said. “Very sad and unfortunate situation.”

LaJoye-Young says the Sheriff’s Department is conducting an investigation into what went wrong. She says one thing she’s learned so far is that her department did not report Ramos-Gomez to ICE.

Instead, it was the Grand Rapids Police who notified ICE when Ramos-Gomez was first arrested on November 21st of last year.

Ramos-Gomez was arrested for property damage and trespassing at a local hospital, where he made his way to the helipad area on the roof. His family says he suffers from mental issues, including PTSD, as a result of his service in the Marines in the Afghanistan war. They say that's what led to the incident at the hospital. 

But Grand Rapids police didn't take it lightly.

“Our police department took this incident very seriously and believed it was a possible act of terrorism,” said Dave Kiddle, interim chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department, in a statement posted online. “In the interest of public safety and because there was a risk to federal airspace, we contacted federal authorities, including the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and ICE.”

In a statement posted by Fox17 in Grand Rapids, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said its officers interviewed Ramos-Gomez after his arrest. ICE says he claimed he was "illegally present" in the U.S. 

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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