Grand Rapids Police enact new policy for interacting with foreign nationals

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

The Grand Rapids Police Department added a new policy this week regarding foreign nationals it says will ensure equal enforcement of the law regardless of citizenship.

"All members of our police department — both sworn and civilian — are dedicated to serving everyone who lives, works and plays in our city with the highest degree of professionalism, dignity and respect," Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said in a statement.

Grand Rapids Police Department enacts new policy.

"This policy codifies that commitment and the expectation that everyone in our community receives equal service regardless of citizenship or immigration status."

The department said the policy was created to better serve the public, and encourage residents to communicate with officers without fear of inquiry into their immigration status, all while complying with federal and international law regarding diplomatic immunity and consular notification.

The change in policy comes after an officer at the department contacted federal immigration officials when Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was arrested in November after allegedly setting a fire and gaining access to the heliport at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. 

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, an American-born citizen and decorated marine who fought in Afghanistan.

Ramos-Gomez, a Marine born in Grand Rapids, was turned over by the officer to the Kent County Sheriff's Department and was held for three days at a detention center 70 miles away in Battle Creek before a lawyer working for the family provided proof of citizenship.

Officers obtained Ramos-Gomez’s passport and concealed pistol license during his arrest and, while questioning him, learned he was a Marine, footage obtained by The Detroit News shows.

Under the new policy, people cannot be stopped, questioned, arrested, searched, or detained based solely on suspected violations of civil immigration law.

Specifically, department members must not:

  • Coerce, threaten with deportation or engage in verbal abuse with any person based on the person’s or the person’s family members’ actual or perceived immigration status or citizenship.
  • Inquire into a person’s immigration status when they seek police services, such as filing a police report or calling 911.
  • Stop, question, investigate, arrest, search or detain an individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status, actual or suspected violations of federal civil immigration law, prior deportation order.

The policy also says department members will not inquire about immigration status or require anyone to produce documentation except:

  • When officers are complying with consular notification or immunity requirements.
  • Are informed by federal, state or city law including background checks and employee requirements.
  • And when relevant to ongoing criminal investigations – not civil immigration enforcement.

Officers also must not request translation services from federal immigration authorities unless there's an imminent danger to the public.

The Kent County Sheriff's Department changed its policy earlier this year on voluntarily holding detainees for ICE following Ramos-Gomez' wrongful arrest.

More: Grand Rapids cop returning to job after veteran arrest uproar

Many immigrant rights advocates, including the ACLU of Michigan, said the department is setting examples for other local police.

Last week, Dearborn announced the city will not renew its contract to hold detainees for ICE after backlash from community members and religious leaders.

The ACLU sent letters to nine county sheriffs, prosecutors and two police chiefs, including Dearborn, urging that they stop detaining people in jails at the request of ICE.

The three department changes all followed backlash from community members and advocates.

"This policy brings together current practices of our police department and input we have received from the community," Payne said. "It’s another step forward in strengthening trust with the community we serve and providing clearer direction to our officers."

The ACLU argues local law enforcement complying with ICE detainer requests, to hold immigrants in questions for up to five days, erodes trust in local law enforcement.

"This new policy recognizes that the police are here to serve everyone in the community," said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan attorney. "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."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_