LePage to sheriffs: Cooperate with ICE detention requests or face removal

Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter to Maine’s 16 county sheriffs on Tuesday ordering them to cooperate with detainer requests from federal immigration authorities or face removal from office.

The Republican governor told a conservative talk radio host on Monday that he may remove two Maine sheriffs from office for what he called their lack of cooperation with federal immigration officials. However, his office said that he hadn’t begun the process of removing any of them.

He told sheriffs on Tuesday that if an undocumented immigrant was released from a county jail after a request from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold them past their scheduled release date, he would move to remove that sheriff from office.

LePage hasn’t named any sheriffs that he is targeting, but his Monday comments came after Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce sent a letter to ICE this month saying that he would hold inmates past scheduled release dates only if the agency also submits a warrant.

Joyce, a Democrat, has cited constitutional concerns around false imprisonment. LePage didn’t name the sheriffs that he’s targeting on Monday, but he told conservative radio host Howie Carr on Tuesday that Joyce prompted his actions. He didn’t name other sheriffs.

But York County Sheriff William King and Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry agreed with Joyce’s stance in interviews on Monday and Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant has told Maine Public that his policy is the same as Joyce’s. All three are Democrats.

Aroostook County Sheriff Darrell Crandall told the BDN that ICE detainer requests in his area are very infrequent, “one or two per year on average,” and that there have not been any issues with delays.

Crandall said his office contacts the federal agency when an inmate ICE believes may be deportable is scheduled to be released on state charges. In the two most recent cases, he recalled ICE agents picking up one inmate right away and releasing the other immediately.

“There has yet to be any unreasonable delay in federal action following an inmate’s release on state charges. [The detainer requests] have served primarily as a reminder for us to contact the feds,” Crandall said.

When asked if he had any concerns the governor might seek to remove him from office, he replied, “Not at all. I am a duly elected, constitutional officer and I follow the law.”

The Maine Constitution allows the governor to remove a sheriff after a complaint, due notice and a hearing, if he finds they are “not faithfully or efficiently performing any duty” imposed on them by law. Sheriffs in Maine are elected at the county level.

“If the sheriffs refuse to comply with state and federal law, I am authorized to take additional action to remove them from office under the Maine Constitution,” LePage said in his letter.

President Donald Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a priority for his administration and other states have struggled with ICE’s detainer requests. In July, Massachusetts’ high court ruled that the state couldn’t hold inmates simply to allow the federal government time to arrest them.

Mary-Anne LaMarre, the executive director of the Maine Sheriffs Association, said Tuesday that sheriffs haven’t looked at the letter as a body, so the group wasn’t prepared to comment.

In 2011, as one of his first acts as governor, LePage overturned decrees in 2004 and 2005 by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci that barred state officials from asking about immigration status when they come into contact with members of the public.

At first Baldacci’s order included law enforcement officials, but that provision was later amended out of the order. LePage’s order — which triggered outcry from civil libertarians — called on state employees and officials to cooperate with federal officials “on all matters pertinent to immigration.”

Sheriffs aren’t state employees, but LePage’s letter connected his 2011 executive order to a section of Maine law that says sheriffs “shall obey all orders relating to law enforcement” from the governor.

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