State, local officials quell concerns from Latino community

Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, immigration forum
Local and state leaders at a forum on immigration at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. (Feb. 20, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration cause fear among members of the Latino community, state and local officials were on hand in Grand Rapids Monday night to answer their questions.

At the event at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, police, representatives from the governor’s office and immigration lawyers offered assurances that that immigrants are welcome in Grand Rapids and Michigan.

“Gov. (Rick) Snyder, from the very beginning of his time as governor, has realized the importance of immigrants and diversity to our state, not only culturally but to growing our economy,” said Anne Armstrong Cusack, the associate director for the governor’s Office of Urban Initiatives.

Armstrong Cusack began by reiterating a message of support from Snyder’s office, affirming Michigan is a welcoming state for immigrants. But she also didn’t discount his commitment to safe and secure borders, with a strong and fair vetting process.

She touched on what needs to be done to support immigrants.

“As a state, we remain committed to our immigrant community,” she said. “How do we get the services to our Latino community in West Michigan that will help them remain strong and become stronger into the economic engine of West Michigan? We know that you are our future.”

She said that includes skilled trades training. She said Snyder has increased his funding proposals for skilled trades.

Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, immigration forum
The forum at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. (Feb. 20, 2017)

Some are fearful that immigration enforcement is now in the hands of local law enforcement.

“They want something to be able to work with you guys (police). These guys pay taxes, it doesn’t even matter if they’re residents of Wyoming or Grand Rapids. They can show they pay stuff,” one woman said.

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky tried to quell concerns that local police are looking for undocumented immigrants.

“When you need help — whether it be for a domestic, or a burglary, a crime of violence, a property crime — the last thing we want you to fear is your immigration status in terms of asking for that help,” Rahinsky said.

Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, immigration forum, Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody, Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky
Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody (left) and Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky at the forum. (Feb. 20, 2017)

He said Grand Rapids police are there to protect and serve. Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody echoed his sentiment.

But Rahinksy admitted the national focus has changed and that it’s unclear what federal counterparts will be enforcing at the local level.

“A lot remains to be seen. I think the first step has already been taken,” Rahinsky said.

Rahinsky said the Grand Rapids Police Department is not pursuing an agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that would create mutual aid with federal agents, empowering local officers to act as immigration enforcement.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom noted the City Commission recently approved and directed Grand Rapids police to accept any form of identification from around the world, making it easier for immigrants if they’re asked for an ID.

Even with state and local support, there’s still doubt for many who asked questions and spoke at the town hall, like one woman who shared her emotional story of having to pay $10,000 to change her immigration status.