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Cumberland County Sheriff Says He Won't Detain Released Inmates for Immigration Authorities

Maine Public/file
Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce at a news conference at the Portland Police Department in April of 2015.

The Cumberland County Sheriff is no longer complying with requests by federal immigration authorities to detain people who are being released from jail. It’s a move applauded by immigrant and civil rights advocates, but condemned by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce says his longtime policy has been to honor requests from ICE to detain inmates who were being released from the county jail after serving time on nonimmigration offenses. The practice gave immigration authorities more time to seek a warrant against people believed to have violated immigration law.

So far this year ICE has detained or arrested 11 people at the jail after making detainer requests. But Joyce has been researching recent federal court cases that ruled against the practice.

“They were all taking them to task for violation of the Fourth Amendment — false imprisonment,” he says.

Joyce says he worried that the county was risking a suit for violating the U.S. Constitution, potentially exposing county taxpayers to costly penalties. So he ended the practice as of last Thursday.

“I’ve basically asked ICE that from now on if you get a judicial warrant along with a detainer, we will accept the inmate. But without the judicial warrant, something backing it up, we’re not going to honor the detainer,” he says.

In a statement to the Portland Press Herald, an ICE spokesman called Joyce’s decision “disappointing” and an “extreme step in the wrong direction.” But Susan Roche, executive director of Portland’s Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, is applauding.

“It’s really not lawful for the sheriff to be holding someone who’s completed their sentence who’s not being charged with a crime, where there’s no judicial warrant showing probable cause to believe that there’s reason to hold them. So we’re encouraged by this decision,” she says.

Roche says she hopes other sheriffs in Maine will follow Joyce’s example. The president of the Maine Sheriff’s Association, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, says it’s a decision that should be up to each individual sheriff.

He adds, however, that he would not honor such requests.

“No one is admitted in our jail unless they have been criminally charged or remanded into custody through a court order, a writ or a warrant. If there’s no probable cause for an arrest or a detention, they will not be detained in this jail,” Gallant says.

That puts at least two sheriffs in Maine at odds with the administration of President Donald Trump, who has ramped up immigration enforcement this year and condemned some authorities who do not cooperate with ICE detention requests. Sheriffs in other Maine counties could not be reached for comment.

This story was originally published Sept. 20, 2017 at 11:54 a.m. ET.