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Maine Lawmakers Consider Opposing Immigration Bills

State lawmakers are considering two measures that would change – in very different ways – how Maine law enforcement works with federal immigration agencies. Both bills are facing opposition from police and sheriff’s organizations.

One measure would ban any law enforcement agency in Maine from stopping, investigating, interrogating, arresting or detaining a person solely for immigration enforcement purposes. In stark contrast, the other bill would require police agencies to help enforce federal immigration laws. Supporters of that measure argue that state and local law enforcement agencies should help federal agencies enforce all laws, including those governing immigration.

Nick Isgro the mayor of Waterville and vice-chair of the Republican State Committee.

“I don’t think this is to paint the broad brush against all immigrants, of course, that would be wrong,” he says. “But the reality is if people are breaking our laws by coming here, we don’t know who they are. If that puts one American at risk isn’t that one too many?”

Other supporters say Maine cannot afford to become what have been called “sanctuary states” where they say undocumented immigrants go to take advantage of state and local benefit programs with less fear of deportation.

The other bill under consideration by the Judiciary Committee would ban close cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration agents. Supporters say immigrants have been subject to unfair law enforcement actions.

Jennifer Bailey is with the Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

“Over the last couple of years we have seen increased fear and anxiety in Maine’s immigrant population,” says Bailey. “These fears are felt by immigrants with every type of status imaginable, even naturalized citizens. These fears stem from a marked rise in indiscriminate immigration enforcement activity nationwide and here in Maine.”

The proposal would limit cooperation to cases in which federal agencies have asked for help in a criminal matter. Both bills were panned by Maine law enforcement organizations. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association say the legislation is unnecessary.

Sagadahoc Sheriff Todd Brackett says that, currently, police limit their cooperation to criminal investigations.

“Sheriffs stand united in their determination without proper documentation, detainees will be released,” says Brackett. “It is incumbent on federal ICE agents to conduct due diligence before detaining these individuals and not to use our jails to hold people while they try to find reasons to support their detention.”

On the other hand, Brackett says it is also important that local law enforcement be available to assist federal agents when they believe it is appropriate, and not be impeded by legislation.

The Judiciary Committee expects make its recommendations to the full legislature in the next few weeks.