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Grand Rapids police share new policy on interactions with federal immigration enforcement

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters.

The Grand Rapids Police Department says they will no longer check on the immigration status of suspects, unless it’s relevant to a criminal investigation and approved by the chief.

Last year, a U.S. citizen named Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was detained by immigration officers, after a referral from a GRPD captain.

Chief Eric Payne says the department has since changed how it operates, but the written policy is important.

“This is how we’ve been operating recently,” Payne says. “Now it puts it in policy for our officers to know, and as important, for the community to know what our interactions will be with our federal law enforcement officers.”

Payne says he hopes the new policy will encourage people to come forward and interact with the department, even if they are afraid about their immigration status.

“The intent of the policy is to make sure that the community knows that everyone in this community is safe” Payne says. “And that the Grand Rapids Police Department is committed to having a safe community and a welcoming community.”

"The intent of the policy is to make sure that the community knows that everyone in this community is safe," says GRPD chief Eric Payne.

The ACLU of Michigan praised the new policy.

“While what happened to Jilmar should never have happened, we are glad that the GRPD is taking steps to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again,” says Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. “This new policy recognizes that the police are here to serve everyone in the community. Immigrants who need help from the police shouldn’t have to fear that if they call 911, they will lose their families and lives in America. This policy recognizes that when local police get involved in immigration enforcement, it undermines community trust, leads to racial profiling, and makes everyone less safe.” 

Payne says GRPD will only seek immigration status information from federal officers in “extreme” cases where the information is relevant to a criminal investigation.

Being in the United States without proper immigration papers is not a crime. It’s a violation of civil law.

Chief Payne says his department held conversations with community members before finalizing the specifics of the new policy.

“As we go through the policy and live the policy, maybe we can come back and give more recommendations,” says Lupe Ramos-Montigny, a community member who was involved in the dicussions with GRPD about the policy. “But as it stands right now, it’s a very good beginning.”

You can read the new policy online here

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.