GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The debate over Kent County’s status as a sanctuary county continues to draw attention, fueled by recent events and legislative proposals. However, in a leaked letter exclusively obtained by Michigan News Source, it has been learned that Kent County’s conditions for cooperation with ICE appears to be different from what’s publicly been reported in the past.

What put the focus on Kent County?

The spotlight on Kent County’s status as a “sanctuary” county stems from the recent murder of 25- year-old Ruby Garcia by an illegal immigrant.

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Brandon Ortiz-Vite is the illegal immigrant arrested in the Grand Rapids murder of Ruby Garcia. Despite being deported by the Trump administration in 2020, Ortiz-Vite reentered the country illegally and allegedly committed the crime. His prior history, including arrests and convictions in Kent County.

Michigan legislator fighting to ban sanctuary cities and counties.

In a recent press release, House Republican Leader Matt Hall has renewed his call to ban sanctuary cities and counties, citing that tragic incident. Rep. Hall attributes such incidents to what he perceives as lax border security under the Biden administration as well as a lack of cooperation with ICE officials by local communities.

He emphasizes the pressing need for action to prevent similar tragedies in the future and has introduced two house bills aimed at eliminating sanctuary community policies. Sanctuary communities are places where local law enforcement may opt not to cooperate with federal immigration officers in detaining undocumented immigrants within their jurisdiction.

Hearings delayed by democrats in committee.

Rep. Hall has urged the House Government Operations Committee to conduct hearings on his proposed legislation, which he argues would enhance collaboration between local and federal authorities, thereby bolstering public safety. However, despite being introduced nine months ago, the bills have yet to be scheduled for a hearing, exacerbating concerns over illegal immigration.

Rep. Hall notes that over 20 communities in Michigan, encompassing more than 5.5 million residents, have designated themselves as sanctuary or welcoming communities. He says that Grand Rapids, in particular, holds the status of an official welcoming city, indicating policies that separate local law enforcement from federal immigration agencies.

Additionally, Kent County has been identified as operating as a sanctuary county according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the county seems to be basing their sanctuary status on this organization’s list.

Kent County fighting designation of being a sanctuary county.

Kent County has been contesting the designation of being a sanctuary county in two letters they have sent to CIS. In a March 27th letter to CIS, which has been made public, the county refutes the classification and asserts its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

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Despite not having a formal agreement with ICE, the county maintains collaboration with all law enforcement agencies, including ICE, to ensure community safety and facilitate secure transfers of individuals of interest.

Letter asks county to be taken off sanctuary county list.

In the letter, the county asks CIS to immediately remove Kent County’s designation as a sanctuary county. Their letter states that in 2019, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office (KCS) instituted a new policy requiring an arrest warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate (judicial warrant) in order to hold detainees for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the adjudication of local charges. They go on to say that after this policy change, ICE elected not to renew their contract.

The county’s letter goes on to say that they allow ICE officers to be present in their jail for questioning and investigation purposes but reiterate they require a warrant be obtained by all law enforcement agencies (including ICE) before they detain an individual past the end of local changes, protecting the civil liability of the county of Kent – and ensuring due process for all detainees.They contend that in 2023, a total of 26 persons were transferred to ICE custody and ten since January 2024.

ICE pushes back against need for judicial warrant.

However, an ICE official commented on the change in policy back in 2019, saying, “There is no such thing as a judicial warrant for administrative immigration violations…There is no authority or legal mechanism for a judge or magistrate to issue a criminal warrant for an administrative immigration arrest. Sanctuary policies such as these fail to recognize federal established processes for the enforcement of immigration law, as established by Congress.”

New letter from county clarifies policy of dealing with ICE hold requests.

Now, in a leaked letter to CIS from Kent County on March 29th that Michigan News Source has obtained, the county states that under their Sheriff’s Office policy regarding ICE hold requests, authority to hold can be accomplished in one of two ways. The first way is what has been reported in the past: the individual may be held on a judicial warrant signed by a judge or magistrate.

The second way which the county contends hasn’t been reported in public clearly before now says, “The hold can be upon request by ICE, with review and approval by the Office of the Sheriff or Correctional Facility Captain. An I-247 request, signed by an authorized immigration officer, and a I-200 administrative Warrant for Arrest of Alien signed by authorized immigration officer with the “Certificate of Service” portion completed must be received for the inmate. Departmental review confirms that the requisite authority to detain is in place.”

Hall praises clarification of policy if county will be accepting ICE hold requests.

Michigan News Source sent the letter to Rep. Hall for comment and he questioned the sanctuary county designation from CIS as the authority on their sanctuary status. He said that if an employee or actor of the county is limiting their cooperation or communication with ICE, then those are sanctuary policies.

Rep. Hall added, “No county in our state should enact a sanctuary policy. If Kent County is removing the prior practice that limited their cooperation with ICE and they’re moving in a direction of fully cooperating with ICE than that’s a good thing and I would call on other counties to do that like Kalamazoo county.”

Rep. Hall continued to say, “The public wants our law enforcement and our government officials to be fully cooperating with ICE and enforcing federal immigration law. It makes our community safer and therefore if Kent County is moving in that direction, it’s a good thing and I would encourage other sanctuary jurisdictions to do the same – to update and change their policies in order to fully enforce and cooperate with federal immigration officials.”

Kent County will be taken off sanctuary county list after second letter sent.

Based on a recent article by WOOD-TV, CIS will be taking Kent County off their list of “sanctuary” jurisdictions after receiving more information from the county concerning their policies in dealing with ICE. Jessica Vaughan told News 8 over the phone, “I was really pleased to find out that Kent County is not a sanctuary” and added that the designation was made on previous accurate statements made by Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young but reported incompletely in 2019 by the Detroit Free Press.

Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young told WOOD-TV she is “thankful” for the center’s review of their policies and said “If you are honoring ICE warrants, you’re not a sanctuary.”

Former President Trump visiting Michigan today to discuss immigration issues.

In addition to Rep. Hall, former President Trump has also been criticizing Biden’s immigration policies and in December of 2019, while visiting Michigan, brought up Kent County’s practice of not honoring ICE detainers without a judicial warrant.

Trump will be in Grand Rapids today on the heels of Garcia’s murder to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. EST at the Devos Convention Center. He is expected to discuss immigration issues at the event.