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

On the left, Governor Janet Mills. On the right her predecessor, Gov. Paul LePage.

AUGUSTA – Governor Janet Mills’ history as Attorney General and her early time as Governor suggest that her response to the effort to turn Maine into a sanctuary state will be much warmer than her predecessor, Governor Paul LePage.

Later in this legislative session, Maine lawmakers are likely to vote on a bill that would turn Maine into a sanctuary state by prohibiting Maine law enforcement officials from working with federal immigration officials in a number of ways.

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


When Paul LePage become Governor in 2011, one of his first actions was to issue an executive order ending the policies established by Governor John Baldacci that had established Maine as a so-called sanctuary state through an executive order signed in 2004.

Baldacci’s executive order had prohibited state employees, such as department of motor vehicle or workers in Maine’s welfare offices, from asking individuals about their immigration status. The order was designed to provide state services to all individuals in the state, regardless of their immigration status, legal or illegal.

By fundamentally avoiding a check on the immigration status of applicants for state services, the Baldacci executive order was able to treat anyone in the state of Maine as an “entitled Maine resident’ when it came to certain services.

The Baldacci order also provided language that governed the conduct of the Maine Department of Public Safety, the department that houses the Maine State Police, but it did leave a narrow allowance for law enforcement to continue to work with federal immigration authorities in some cases.

With the stroke of a pen in 2011, Governor Paul LePage ended the Baldacci-era sanctuary policies.


But while LePage worked to tighten up state policies around immigrants, Janet Mills regularly served as the most prominent foil to LePage’s efforts.

In 2014, Mills used her authority as Attorney General to block a LePage administration directive to stop providing taxpayer funded welfare to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers on a technicality. In that instance Mills claimed that asking local city administrators to determine the immigration status of applicants was an unfunded mandate, and so not allowed under state law.

One of Mills’ first acts as Governor was to start the rulemaking process to restore Maine’s food stamp benefits to some asylum seekers following a favorable court decision.

In 2017, Mills joined Attorneys General from fourteen other states in suing the federal government to stall an order to wind down the program known as DACA, which provided permits to some young people who were brought into the United States illegally.

In that instance, the Trump administration laid out their case for why the program was unconstitutional and said that Congress needed to provide a lawful solution.

LePage sued Mills over her actions signing Maine onto the suit, and in response, Mills said that the DACA rescission would jeopardize the “health and well-being of Maine residents.”

Even when Mills wasn’t directly battling Paul LePage on immigration, she was actively working to oppose efforts to combat illegal immigration.

In what may be the one action that is most germane to Mills’ consideration of the current sanctuary state proposal, 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.

While opponents argued that arresting immigrants who were wanted for serious crimes in courthouses was safer than on city streets across Maine, Mills did not relent.


The current sanctuary state proposal being considered in the Maine Legislature goes beyond the scope of any single action Janet Mills has taken either as Governor or Attorney General. It goes well beyond the Baldacci executive order and would push Maine into virtually anyone’s definition of ‘sanctuary state’ status.

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 also tries to indemnify Maine law enforcement from any state civil or criminal penalty for refusal to comply with federal agencies or follow federal laws or directives. But is not clear how that would comport with a state law that could put Maine’s law enforcement professionals at odds with federal law.

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

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

While the Mills administration has not yet weighed in on the proposal and a public hearing has yet to be scheduled, it is undeniable that the proposal, in some form, stands a better chance of becoming law under the Mills administration than it did her predecessor.

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