Dems and pro-immigrant groups push back on Trump’s Grand Rapids visit

A protester outside ex-President Donald Trump’s Grand Rapids event on Tuesday. (Michigan Advance/Anna Liz Nichols)

By Michigan Advance

April 3, 2024


MICHIGAN—Democrats and pro-immigrant groups on Tuesday raised concerns that former President Trump’s visit to Grand Rapids will stoke fear and increase divisions with immigrant communities.

Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids, a nonviolent movement working toward permanent protection, dignity and respect for undocumented immigrants also held a rally supporting immigrant rights before Trump spoke.

“We are here to tell you that immigrants with their labor, with their culture, with their food, with everything that serves this community, enriches the fabric of Grand Rapids, enriches the fabric of West Michigan, enriches the fabric of [the] United States,” said Gema Lowe, an organizer with Cosecha Michigan.

“We’re here to tell you from immigrants here, they are in front of you, that we’re here to work to take those jobs that nobody else takes. … And then we do it with pride and we do it because we want to contribute to [the] United States.”

Ahead of Trump’s visit, Michigan Republicans have advocated for more restrictive immigration policy, pointing to a March 22 killing of Ruby Garcia. Brandon Ortiz-Vite, who police say was in a relationship with Garcia, later turned himself in and confessed to shooting Garcia. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ortiz-Vite is from Mexico and was previously deported in 2020, and had reentered the United States at some point.

“I spoke to some of her family. … Ruby’s loved ones and community are left grieving for this incredible young woman,” Trump said at the press conference. “This monster had been deported, thrown out of the country, wasn’t going to be able to come back. … But he came back. We threw him out of the country and crooked Joe Biden let him back in and let him stay and he viciously killed Ruby.”

However, Garcia’s family told FOX-17 and WOOD-TV that Trump did not contact them.

“He did not speak with any of us, so it was kind of shocking seeing that he had said that he had spoke with us, and misinforming people on live TV,” Ruby Garcia’s sister, Mavi Garcia, told WOOD-TV.

Lowe called Garcia’s death a tragic event, but said that one incident does not represent the immigrant community.

While Lowe said Trump’s campaign has stoked fears of migration by highlighting instances of “migrant crime,” Lowe noted there had been a number of studies conducted by universities and other respected institutions that found immigrants were less likely to commit crimes.

While opponents often argue immigration leads to rising crime rates, research from Stanford University found that since 1880, first-generation immigrants were not more likely to be imprisoned than people born in the U.S. Immigrants are currently 60% less likely to be incarcerated than individuals born in the U.S., the study found.

But Republicans in Michigan and across the nation have called for stricter immigration policies, arguing Garcia’s death could have been prevented if immigration law had been enforced.

Michigan House Minority Leader Matt Hall released a statement on March 27 called for a crackdown on immigration and a ban on sanctuary cities — or cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

“This illegal immigration crisis has bred deadly consequences right here in Michigan. A secure border would have kept Ruby Garcia’s murderer out of our state and nation, but Democrats have refused to fully enforce our immigration laws and national security,” said Hall, who joined Trump at the press conference along with members of law enforcement, Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.), GOP former Attorney General Bill Schuette and GOP former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, who Trump endorsed for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat.

According to the statement, Hall sent a letter to state Rep. Tullio Liberati, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee, asking him to hold a hearing on Hall’s House Bills 4879 and 4880 that would prohibit counties and municipalities from adopting policies that prevent local employees from communicating or cooperating with federal immigration officials.

State Rep. Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboygan) also signed onto the letter.

According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, Lansing is the only city in Michigan that has officially declared itself a sanctuary city, while Ingham, Kalamazoo, Kent and Wayne counties are considered sanctuary counties. Detroit and Ann Arbor have policies in place that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities and prevent officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) also released a statement highlighting Michigan Senate Republicans’ Strong Borders, Safe Communities plan, which includes increased penalties for the creation, manufacturing, delivery, or possession of fentanyl. It also requires every Michigan community to enforce state and federal immigration laws and calls on the president and Congress to “immediately and fully resolve the border crisis.”

The RSLC criticized a Democratic package of bills known as the Drive SAFE package, which would restore undocumented workers’ and families’ ability to obtain a driver’s license in Michigan. Supporters argue these policies would address economic barriers and concerns about being deported for driving without a license. Neither the House, nor Senate bills have received a hearing in the committees where they were referred.

Democrats didn’t wait for Trump to speak to push back on Republican rhetoric and attacks on immigration policy.

Ahead of Trump’s speech, the Biden campaign hosted a virtual press conference featuring U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Twp.) and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). Stabenow and Stevens criticized Republican senators for dropping their support for a bipartisan immigration package negotiated by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

“I want to be clear, there are very real security concerns at the border. And on Feb. 7 of this year, Senate Republicans had a chance to vote for a tough, effective bipartisan bill to address those challenges. Fifty-five days later; 55 days later, and we’re still waiting for that bill to pass. Fifty-five days ago, Republicans killed the bill,” Stabenow said.

“Donald Trump isn’t interested in border security or making our immigration system work. He is only interested in scapegoating people for his own benefit and creating chaos,” Stabenow said.

Stevens echoed Stabenow’s comments saying Republicans walked away from the deal at Trump’s request, while Biden sat down with leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“He legislated as we are supposed to legislate, and he negotiated in good faith to make this country safer, to create a deal that treated people fairly and humanely and took steps to address an issue many Americans feel deeply about: our immigration system,” Stevens said of Biden.

Brinks also released a joint statement Monday night alongside several Kent County lawmakers: state Reps. John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming), Carol Glanville (D-Walker), Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids), Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) and Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids).

“As elected representatives from Kent County, we stand united in expressing our deep dismay and condemnation regarding the impending visit of former President Donald Trump in response to the tragic murder of Ruby Garcia,” the statement said.

“West Michigan has a rich and proud history of being a welcoming place to immigrants and first-generation Americans who have enriched our community for generations. Trump’s repeated anti-immigrant rhetoric stokes fear and xenophobia that does not accurately represent the values of West Michigan,” it said.

At the rally, Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids held a moment of silence for Garcia before speakers spoke out against anti-immigrant rhetoric.

After speakers finished their comments, attendees marched from Rosa Parks Circle to Monroe Avenue, facing a crowd of Trump supporters lined up on Lyon Street, while they chanted “Say it loud; say it clear; immigrants are welcome here,” “No bans, no walls from Palestine to Mexico” and “Immigrant rights are workers’ rights.” Trump’s supporters occasionally chanted, “U.S.A.!”

At one point, a man in a van drove up beside the protestors and yelled, “Illegal immigrants go home,” and seemed to film them on his cell phone until a police officer pulled up beside him.

READ MORE: A second Trump term could lead to abortion and IVF bans

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.




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