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LePage Threatens To Remove Maine Sheriffs Who Won’t Detain Immigrants

Mal Leary
Maine Public
Maine Governor Paul LePage at a State House news event in April.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage says he may use a provision of the Maine Constitution to remove any sheriff who does not cooperate with federal officials on enforcement of immigration laws. But the two sheriffs LePage is angry with say they are following the law.

Speaking on Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated radio show, LePage expressed frustration that some Maine sheriffs might not cooperate with federal immigration officials who want to detain certain immigrants. LePage said he is considering using a section of the Maine Constitution that allows a governor to remove a sheriff “upon complaint, due notice and hearing” for not performing a duty required by law.

“I got a couple of sheriffs that say they are not going to work with ICE,” he said. “Well unbeknownst to them, the Maine Constitution says if they don’t follow Maine law, I can remove them.”

LePage said he is concerned that terrorists have entered the United States through Maine, and he thinks Maine law enforcement should do everything possible to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in enforcing immigration laws.

Last week Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said that unless inmates are charged, his jail will no longer detain them beyond their release dates even when federal immigration agents request it.

“There is a law that suggests that I hold ICE inmates, and I am. But the small percentage of people that are coming through on detainers, I am not holding them, because to do so would be against the law and the Constitution,” he said.

LePage told the radio audience he had issued an executive order on the matter last Friday, but his office later clarified that he was referring to a Jan. 2011 executive order directing all employees and officials in the state to cooperate on immigration issues, subject to limitations in law or in the state and federal constitutions.

Joyce maintains that there are limitations. And he says he has a responsibility to Cumberland County taxpayers not to expose them to lawsuits for wrongful imprisonment that could be brought if a person is detained and makes bail, but still gets held in the jail.

While LePage did not name him, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant told Maine Public Radio last week that he was also refusing to hold detainees for ICE.

“Unless they have been criminally charged or remanded into custody through a court order, a writ or a warrant, if there is no probable cause for an arrest or for a detention, they will not be detained in this jail,” he said.

The current provision in the state constitution for removing a sheriff by a governor has never been used, although sheriffs have been removed from office using a different process under the Constitution. The governor’s office says no removal proceedings have yet been initiated by LePage.