Maine ‘sanctuary state’ bill to be heard Wednesday, on heels of ICE sweep across New England

AUGUSTA – As the crisis at the southern border of the United States worsens, the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, May 22 to consider a bill that would place dramatic restrictions on the ability of Maine law enforcement officers and agencies to work with federal immigration officials.

The bill, L.D. 1589, is titled “An Act To Protect the Liberty of Immigrants and Asylum Seekers in Maine” is sponsored by Rep. Craig Hickman (D – Winthrop) and would prohibit law enforcement officials in Maine from asking anyone about their immigration status. It would also prohibit them from arresting someone under a federal “hold request” if federal officials requested they do so, among a host of other restrictions.

The bill also forbids law enforcement from sharing information on inmates who are being held in Maine with the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.

Just last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a sweep of New England had resulted in 141 arrests of illegal immigrants.

That enforcement action came as a result of the agency matching fingerprint records from OUI cases across the region. Several violent offenders were among those arrested. A director for ICE said at a forum in Boston that he believes judges and prosecutors across New England have been reducing sentences to help illegal immigrant subject to deportation escape notice.

One of the individuals arrested in the latest sweep was wanted on rape, robbery and strangulation charges, according to the Boston Herald.

The bill specifically lays out language that limits how long someone can be held for violation of federal immigration law, and says that a law enforcement agency may not “use agency or department money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, stop, arrest or search a person solely for immigration enforcement purposes,” except in the narrow instances that the law provides for in the following subsection.

The bill also forbids a host of other actions by law enforcement, some are listed below:

-Local law enforcement officials forbidden to provide federal law enforcement officials the release date of a person in custody.

-Local law enforcement officials would be forbidden to provide federal law enforcement personal information about a person wanted for immigration violations.

-Local law enforcement would be forbidden to act as interpreters for federal immigration officials.

-Local law enforcement agencies would be forbidden to provide office space or use of facilities to federal officials for most immigration inquiries or detention.

The law purports to indemnify Maine law enforcement from any civil or criminal penalty for refusal to comply with federal agencies or follow federal laws or directives, but it is unclear how that would play out in practice.

The bill makes other changes to state law around non-citizens and law enforcement as well.

According to analysis of the bill by the group Maine People Before Politics, non-citizens in the state of Maine would actually receive more protection than American citizens, partly because the law would prohibit law enforcement from releasing mug shots and personal information about a non-citizen who was arrested.

In recent weeks, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling has clashed with city staff and Portland’s City Manager over his push to continue to bring in more individuals who have illegally crossed the southern border, despite the costs, which are straining Portland’s social safety net.

READ MORE: Strimling calls for more illegal immigrants to Portland in response to President Trump’s tweets

One discussion among Portland’s Finance Committee included talk that Governor Janet Mills and senior officials in her administration were working on an ‘administrative change’ that would allow Portland to provide state-funded welfare benefits to illegal immigrants.

READ MORE: Gov. Mills may bypass Legislature to expand welfare for non-citizens in Portland

Governor Janet Mills has not yet taken an official position on the proposal but the one action that may be most germane to Mills’ consideration is that in April of 2017, Attorney General Janet Mills sent a letter to the Acting Director of Homeland Security formally requesting that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) refrain from arresting suspects in or around Maine courthouses.

Mills argued that the arrests would have a “chilling effect” on other efforts by law enforcement working in the area, but Mills opposition to ICE also was a political calculation, as she wrote the letter just a couple months before announcing her campaign for governor.

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

Dozens of groups and citizens are expected to testify on both sides of the bill. You can read the full bill by clicking here.

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