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Hearing on ‘sanctuary state’ bill sparks emotional debate in Augusta

Officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detain a suspect.

AUGUSTA – A public hearing Tuesday before the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee drew dozens of pieces of testimony, some emotional, on a bill that would implement sanctuary state laws related to how Maine law enforcement agencies and officials should work, or not work, with federal immigration agencies.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Craig Hickman (D – Winthrop) tried to frame much of his testimony in support of his bill around Maine as a “free state” and wanting all people, even those who may not be here through a legal process, to be safe.

But along with his comments attempting to strike a positive tone, Rep. Hickman said that the federal agency in charge of enforcing America’s immigration laws, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is “corrupt” and local law enforcement working with them any more than is absolutely required under federal law amounts to modern day ‘slave-catching.’

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association testified against Rep. Hickman’s bill, with Robert S. Howe testifying on behalf of that association saying, “Our police departments certainly will and do assist federal officials whenever they seek our help in dealing with someone who poses a threat to that safety and welfare, but we should not be mandated to expend resources in ways that do not serve to protect our citizens from a genuine threat to their safety. Nor should we be prohibited from protecting our citizens’ safety, regardless of the immigration status of suspects.”

Read More: Democrat bill would make Maine a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants

Others had different ideas, however.

A Maine People’s Alliance staffer testified that, “This bill is fundamentally about protecting the safety, well-being, and constitutional rights of the people of Maine.”

The written testimony Taryn Hallweaver submitted for the Maine People’s Alliance, however, does not cite any ways they think the bill would do what they say it would do, instead focusing on how the bill helps “New Mainers” and saying that law enforcement agencies should not spend public funds working with federal immigration officials.

Read More: On “sanctuary state” bill, Janet Mills’ record suggests she’s opposite LePage

Nick Isgro, speaking as a citizen of Waterville, pointed out that the bill attempts to impose restrictions on Maine’s sixteen county sheriffs even though they are the highest ranking law enforcement officials in their respective counties. Because they are elected and tasked with protecting the people, it is out of line for the Legislature to try to dictate to them how to do their jobs, Isgro told the committee.

Social media lit up today with news of the bill’s hearing, with thousands of reactions from Maine people.

A News Center Maine Pulse poll the morning of the hearing showed 85% of respondents saying they oppose making Maine a sanctuary state, while 13% said they supported it. An additional 2% said that it should only apply to some cities.

The bill will have a work session before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee before the committee makes a recommendation to the Maine House and Senate on the proposal.

Along with Rep. Hickman, cosponsors of the bill are as follows:

Representative Christopher Babbidge (D – Kennebunk)
Senator Shenna Bellows of (D – Kennebec)
Representative Barbara Cardone (D – Bangor)
Representative Kristen Cloutier (D – Lewiston)
Representative Thom Harnett of (D – Gardiner)
Senator David Miramant (D – Knox)
Representative Victoria Morales (D – South Portland)
Representative Lois Reckitt (D – South Portland)
Representative Rachel Talbot Ross (D – Portland)

You can read the full text of the bill by clicking here.

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