Governor LePage threatens Maine Sheriffs who do not comply with ICE demands

On Sept. 26, Republican Governor Paul LePage sent a letter to all 16 county sheriffs demanding that they cooperate with detainer requests from federal immigration authorities or face removal from office.

The letter states that if an undocumented immigrant is released from a county jail after a request from immigration and customs enforcement to hold them past a scheduled release date, LePage would initiate removal of the responsible sheriff from office.

In a radio interview the previous day, LePage threatened to remove two of the 16 sheriffs, citing a lack of compliance with the order. It is unclear whether that removal will be realized.

LePage has faced resistance from many sheriffs who have denounced his demand. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) saying he would hold inmates past scheduled release dates only if the agency also submits a warrant. LePage cited Joyce’s statement as the motivation behind his letter, in which he referenced the section of Maine Law that says sheriffs “shall obey” law enforcement orders from a governor.

The concern surrounding LePage’s order is false imprisonment, which has made headlines in high-profile legal cases since Trump’s administration vowed to crack down on illegal immigration. In July, Massachusetts High Court ruled the state couldn’t hold inmates simply to allow the federal government time to arrest them.

Closer to the Colby community, Kennebec County’s own Sheriff Ken Mason has stated that he would not honor detainer requests without a warrant or other document signed by a judge.

“As sheriff, I am responsible to serve municipal, state and federal law enforcement agencies,” Mason is quoted as saying to the Portland Press Herald in response to LePage’s letter on Sept. 26. “If they come in with proper documentation required to hold an individual, then we will hold them.”

Although Mason has politically separated himself from LePage, his point is practically unnecessary, as the Kennebec County jail does not hold federal prisoners because it is chronically overcrowded.

Mason was originally a LePage appointee, but withdrew from consideration after legal objections from the Kennebec County Democrats, who called his appointment illegal.

The County Democrats had submitted only Ryan Reardon (interim sheriff) as a candidate for LePage’s approval. After LePage ignored the request and approved Mason, Mason removed his name from consideration, then collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot as an independent.

Mason won the election over Reardon, and although he was originally a LePage appointee, his views have been expressly more tolerant in other areas in addition to immigration. He is vocal on reducing recidivism, addressing drug addiction among inmates, and creating positive community interaction with law enforcement.

Colby College itself has had to take a stand on immigration policies. Although the Trump administration has expressed that criminals are the priority of anti-illegal immigration efforts, there have been no assurances that students will be protected. With the recent cancellation of DACA, anti-immigration rhetoric may begin to have more visceral effects on college campuses.

President David Greene continues to affirm Colby’s commitment to all students and the importance of global education.

In a letter dated Nov. 16, 2016 signed by 113 Colby staff and faculty, the Colby community raised concerns about DACA students at the College. In response, Greene pledged the College’s commitment to those who are vulnerable.

Greene was one of more than 200 college and university presidents who in November signed a statement supporting DACA and urging business, civic, religious and nonprofit organizations to join them in supporting DACA and undocumented immigrant students.

The DACA initiative gives undocumented youth a temporary reprieve from deportation and includes other protections. It helps hundreds of thousands of people lawfully work, obtain driver’s licenses and bank accounts, and travel.

Other colleges and universities around the country have created plans to protect their communities. Columbia University has announced a plan to provide aid to undocumented students, pledged to withhold information from immigration officials without a subpoena, and would prevent immigration officials from entering campus without a warrant.

Whether LePage’s actions and insistence on complete cooperation with immigration officials and himself affects the Colby community or not, Greene and the Colby community continue to take active steps to combat anti-immigration rhetoric and legislation.

“I am working with colleagues from across the country to act collectively and will be contacting Maine’s congressional delegation to advocate for legislation,” Greene wrote in his response to the DACA announcement on Sept. 5.

Colby students have reacted to LePage’s actions, and although few expect his admonishment of sheriffs will affect the Colby community, many believe a strong response is necessary.

“People come to America for an education because it offers something they can’t get in their own country,” says Colby student Carissa Yang. “This is supposed to be such a big part of the American Dream. We can’t deny a basic human right.”