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Trump visits Grand Rapids touting anti-immigration rhetoric, protesters say he is 'weaponizing tragedy'

Trump visits Grand Rapids, touting anti-immigration rhetoric. Pro-immigration protest happens nearby.
A protester holding a sign that reads 'TRUMP CAN'T MAKE GRAND RAPIDS HATE,' seen across the street from the Amway Grand Plaza.

A protester holding a sign that reads 'TRUMP CAN'T MAKE GRAND RAPIDS HATE,' seen across the street from the Amway Grand Plaza. /Allison Donahue

Conflicting voices clashed at the intersection of Lyon Street and Monroe Avenue Tuesday afternoon in anticipation and tension surrounding former President Donald Trump's scheduled appearance at DeVos Place Convention Center.

Proponents of Trump's agenda echoed their support for the former president, who was visiting Grand Rapids for a press conference with “local law enforcement and invited guests,” while advocates for immigration reform raised their voices in opposition.

Susan Haines, a Grand Rapids resident, braved the cold April rain to protest Trump’s visit, saying “the alternative was staying home and doing nothing.” 

“I feel that things are getting worse and worse with Trump. His language is getting more and more radical and he’s fomenting hate,” said Haines, who held a sign that read “Trump can’t make Grand Rapids hate.”

During much of Trump’s speech, delivered from behind a sign reading “Stop Biden’s border bloodbath,” he heavily criticized President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, attributing a rise in crime to immigrant Americans—despite numerous studies indicating that immigrants commit significantly fewer crimes than American-born citizens.

Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids, an organization “fighting for the dignity, respect, and permanent protection of all undocumented immigrants” in the United States, held a pro-immigrant rally at Rosa Parks Circle to demonstrate “that immigrants are a community that deserves dignity and respect” before Trump’s event just blocks down the road.

The protest began at Rosa Parks Circle before proceeding down Monroe Avenue and culminating across the street from the Amway Grand Plaza.

Daniel Caracheo, the communications coordinator with Michigan People’s Campaign, who was in the crowd at the Cosecha protest, said that “the community is here to tell Trump ‘get out of our city.’ … In this city, we support immigrant rights.”

Caracheo said Trump’s anti-immigration comments have an impact on New Americans and immigrant Americans in Grand Rapids. Caracheo noted a joint letter signed by the 12-member Republican majority on the Kent County Board of Commissioners last month that said “Kent County is not a sanctuary county.” The letter was released after the Center for Immigration Studies listed Kent County as a sanctuary county, which it has done since 2019.

Designating Kent County as a sanctuary county shows that the West Michigan county is “diverse, inclusive and a place where peoples’ civil rights are protected and respected here, regardless of your background,” Caracheo said. 

During his Grand Rapids visit, Trump talked about Brandon Ortiz-Vite, who officials say was in the U.S. illegally and was charged last month with murder and weapons offenses in the March 22 death of 25-year-old Ruby Garcia, whose body was found beside a Grand Rapids freeway. Ortiz-Vite and Garcia reportedly were in a romantic relationship.

Trump, who said he spoke with Garcia’s family, said his administration “threw [Ortiz-Vite] out of the country and crooked Joe Biden let him come back. And he viciously killed Ruby.”

“He was set loose to roam our streets,” Trump said. “In this case, set loose to roam in Michigan by politicians that are left and weak and stupid.”

Gema Lowe, an an organizer with Cosecha Michigan, said the crime committed against Garcia was an act of domestic violence, not an immigraton issue.

“This young lady was a victim of domestic violence,” said Lowe from the stage at Rosa Parks Circle, speaking in English and Spanish. “That’s what we need to talk about here on this incident, not the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is permeating with candidate Trump … We want to make clear that the reason this life was lost was due to domestic violence.”

Ivan Diaz, a Democrat on the Kent County Board of Commissioners, was also in the crowd at the Trump counter-protest.

“I think it’s important to make sure we’re speaking out and not letting people, again, take advantage of this tragedy,” Diaz said. “By having people out here, who are willing to walk in the rain and the cold in Grand Rapids, to speak out against this racist language that is being used, this weaponization of tragedy.”


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