MUSKEGON – Originally striking it from the agenda, the county commissioners were forced to address what was the elephant in the room – will Muskegon County become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants?
It was an issue that originally appeared on the Tuesday, Oct. 22, agenda as a resolution to vote on. People filled the room, and several stood in the hallway, waiting to hear if the commissioners would take a stance for or against it.
However, like the county commissioners last meeting in Montague Township, it seemed as if those in attendance might have made the trip for nothing, and the issue of a sanctuary county would not be discussed.
That was until Commissioner Gary Foster, district seven, decided to make a new reworded motion forcing the commissioners to address the sanctuary county issue. The motion was supported by Zach Lahring, district five, and seconded by Rillastine Wilkins, district one.
Charles Nash, district six, appeared agitated by Foster’s attempt to get the commissioners to vote on the sanctuary county issue.
Despite Nash’s frustration with Foster, most of the commissioners’ ire was directed towards Lahring, who originally took issue with a re-branding attempt made by Commissioner Marcia Hovey-Wright, district two, to make Muskegon County a “welcoming” county. Lahring wanted the resolution wording to include “legal immigrant” in it, believing without it the county would become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.
Hovey-Wright was not present at the meeting, but said earlier in the month that Muskegon County becoming a sanctuary had never been her intention.
“As an elected official I’ve always tried to be respectful to my fellow commissioners even when sometimes it has been pretty difficult. I’ve been a public servant for years. I’ve never seen this level of fear and hatred of politics in Muskegon County since one of my fellow commissioner has promoted right wing conspiracies and hate groups,” said Commissioner Robert Scolnik, district four.
“I don’t see his Facebook posts and I don’t want to see them. But numerous people have sent me screen shots of his insulting comments regarding me, conspiracy theories, anti-gay rhetoric, and numerous other divisive and hateful groups.”
Even Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin is having issues with Lahring, and addressed his concerns with the commissioner during the public comment period. Lahring has accused Poulin of not properly complying with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), and wishes him to deputize two police officers as members of the federal agency.
“Over the past few months my office has been pulled in by this commission’s lack of respect for one another which has created a distrust and divide in our community, and we deserve better than that,” said Poulin.
“When an elected official needs to create a false narrative of both inaccurate information and lies in order to move an agenda forward, and openly deny future support for public safety we all lose. The negative impact this has on the community, and the efforts of the men and women serving are not only diminished, but the trust in those representing them are lost.”
Speaking to MLive, Poulin said earlier this month that out of those arrested in the county, ICE detainees make up less than one-percent. During his speech at the county commissioners meeting, Poulin said law enforcement needs to be focused on realistic data driven issues.
Nash would say later that evening, “I think if people were really paying attention to what the sheriff is saying there is not a possibility of this community becoming a sanctuary city. He has laws he has to follow, and he is working with ICE, so we don’t need [sic], matter of fact we can’t tell him what to do, it is his job to do it, and it is his job to follow the law.
“So all this really is political motions. It is ridiculous, and it is dividing our communities and it needs to stop. It’s ridiculous. We are grown people. I am glad there are no children here because I would be embarrassed to bring my kid in here.”
Wilkins would later remove her second to the motion, defanging Foster’s resolution. However, Lahring continued to fight for a vote, despite it no longer being possible.
Chairman Susie Hughes, district three, began to lose her cool with her fellow commissioner. Lahring tried to make the argument that Foster counted as a second to the motion he had proposed, and seemed to disagree with how the corporate counsel was interpreting rules recently put in place for voting by the commissioners.
“You don’t understand it (regarding the rules). Commissioner Lahring we have asked our corporate counsel. He has given us a determination. We are moving on,” said Hughes.
During the public comment period at least three people had to be asked to leave the board of commissioners meeting by police officers. The first was Ben Evans, who called Lahring a fascist.
“I’m pretty good with words, but I don’t have the words to express how disappointing the behavior of this commission is. The fact that you would consider passing a resolution that would expressly ban immigrants from Muskegon County, that’s petty, that need not be done,” said Evans.
“No human is illegal, you know what is on the agenda is me addressing the cancer that you are in this county. Please remind yourself you are in the city of Muskegon. You are spreading like a cancer, you are a fascist. Would you like to debate me and speak reason?”
The other person was a man wearing a red Make America Great Again hat. The man said the hat was a part of his political statement.
The other part of his statement included threatening to have signs printed and posted around Muskegon County with the names of commissioners printed on them if they allowed illegal immigrants into the county. He had one such sign with him which included Hughes’ name on it.
“You shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, and that’s me,” said the man.
Patricia Maybee also had to be asked to leave by police when she refused to give up the podium during the public comment period. She said Lahring owed her an apology for calling members of the League of Women’s Voters communists on his Facebook page.
Linda Dykstra said the community is not going to support becoming a sanctuary city and becoming lawless.
Ana Olson said the divisiveness in the community right now makes her fear going to the grocery store.
“The color of my skin defines who I am, every time I go anywhere it defines who I am. You don’t know if I’m legal or not, but you assume because of the color of my skin that I’m probably not. Therefore I am a target, I’m a target at my local grocery store for the first time. I’ve been here for many many years,” said Olson.