Dispute erupts over Maine County Sheriff refusing to detain illegal immigrants

Left to right: U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank, President Donald Trump, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce.

PORTLAND, MAINE – Early last week, Maine’s top federal law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank, issued a statement criticizing “sanctuary jurisdictions” for refusing to honor detainers issued by federal immigration officials. Detainers are formal requests from federal agencies to local law enforcement to keep immigrants subject to removal from the country in custody for a period of time.

“Illegal aliens who commit crimes in this country and end up in state or local custody should not be able to avoid removal or other immigration consequences. Releasing criminal aliens in the face of immigration detainers imperils the public. Illegal alien criminals who have been released after law enforcement agencies have failed to honor detainers have gone on to commit additional crimes, including violent felonies,” said U.S. Attorney Frank.

“When state and local jurisdictions release criminal illegal aliens, immigration officials must locate and arrest them in the community rather than in the secure and controlled environment of a jail or prison,” Frank said.

While U.S. Attorney Frank’s statement did not mention any specific jurisdiction, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce blasted the statement in a Portland Press Herald article.

Sheriff Joyce told the PPH that U.S. Attorney Frank’s statement was misleading and he would not comply with undocumented detainer requests.

Read the Portland Press Herald article here.

ICE and the enforcement of immigration laws in general in the city of Portland, the largest city in Maine, as well as across Sheriff Joyce’s jurisdiction have been a controversial subject for years.

News of an ICE office opening in downtown Portland has sparked multiple protests and calls for the agency to be removed from the downtown office space it occupies.

At the same time, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials have made a string of arrests of illegal immigrants across the state, though mostly in the northern and central regions. The additional enforcement in Maine and around the nation, especially along the southern border, have been a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy and efforts to make Americans safer in their own communities.

Speaking to the Portland Press Herald, however, Sheriff Joyce says he makes his decision based on what the inmates in his custody were arrested for – unless immigration officials provide him additional information proving the inmate is a risk to public safety or provide documents convincing him of probably cause to hold the inmate.

It’s not the first time Sheriff Joyce has gone against the wishes of a top official on immigration. In 2017, Joyce publicly disputed Governor Paul LePage in a similar fashion, going so far as to suggest LePage didn’t really understand the law. LePage publicly threatened to remove county sheriffs that refused to comply with federal immigration law in that dispute.

Then, a 5-3 Supreme Court decision in 2018 largely upheld the position of the federal government, and LePage, overturning a Ninth Circuit ruling that illegal immigrants subject to removal could be held only for a limited time.

The ruling from SCOTUS made clear that there is no requirement by local law enforcement to release detained aliens except that it is for witness protection purposes and that the detainee is not a flight risk or likely to commit another crime by saying, “the statute expressly and unequivocally imposes an affirmative prohibition on releasing detained aliens under any other conditions.”

The Maine Chapter of the ACLU has sided with Sheriff Joyce and directed heavy criticism at U.S. Attorney Frank and Attorney General Bill Barr, repeating a common liberal talking point that sanctuary jurisdictions are safer than non-sanctuary jurisdictions. Politifact, a fact-checking website from the Poynter Institute says that the claims that sanctuary jurisdictions are safer lack context and have relied on murky, unreliable studies and definitions of what a “sanctuary” city or jurisdication really is. As a result, they don’t give such claims much credibility.

Former Congressman Bruce Poliquin also weighed in with a statement on Facebook, saying, The NUMBER ONE priority of every elected official is to protect the safety and well-being of Maine and U.S. citizens. Does it make make sense to allow alien lawbreakers to go free in our communities after being arrested for committing crimes against American citizens on U.S. soil?”

“I hope all Maine law enforcement officials get on the same page as the immigration police to detain and deport criminal aliens according to existing law,” Poliquin added.

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