A Maine sheriff who raised the ire of Gov. Paul LePage over his policy regarding federal immigration enforcement defended his stance Wednesday and said his county is no “sanctuary” jurisdiction.
But Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, whose jurisdiction includes Portland, said he decided last week to stop honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cases out of concern that he was exposing his county to civil liability.
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“We’re not a sanctuary county,” he told LifeZette. “We’re just trying to be practical.”
Joyce’s comments come after LePage sent a letter to the state’s sheriffs reminding them that under the state’s constitution, he has authority to remove sheriffs who fail to perform their duties. Although the letter did not call out any sheriff by name, many observers in the state believe it was aimed at Joyce.
The sheriff said he is not concerned about his job because he believes he is performing his duties and cooperates with ICE to the extent possible. He noted LePage’s letter made clear it did not expect sheriffs to cooperate with ICE in ways that violate laws or the Constitution.
Joyce said he first raised the issue of ICE detainers with his staff in March. He said he asked his command staff to meet with local ICE officials and review a 2015 appellate case, Morales v. Chadbourne. That case involved a naturalized citizen from Guatemala who had been detained in Rhode Island.
The appeals court upheld a federal judge’s ruling that state officials were liable for holding Morales at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions based on a so-called “detainer” from ICE that falsely claimed she was an illegal immigrant.
Christopher Hajec, director of litigation at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, said there is no basis for a blanket rejection of ICE detainers.
“His decision not to honor them at all is a total overreaction,” he said.
Hajec said the issue in the Morales case was that local officials blindly complied with an ICE request that lacked probable cause to hold the woman. But he said since then, ICE has changed its detainer form to make clear that it is based on probable cause. Unless a local official has reason to believe that the detainer request is invalid, he should be able to rely on it, Hajec said.
“The whole touchtone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. All the sheriff has to do is act reasonable.”
“The whole touchtone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness,” he said. “All the sheriff has to do is act reasonable.”
Joyce is not convinced, however. He said he has been trying to resolve the conflict.
For various reasons Joyce said, his employees and ICE officials were not able to get together to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, he said, he discussed the matter with other sheriffs at a National Sheriffs’ Association conference in late June.
He said ICE authorities told him they hoped to resolve the issue by Labor Day.
“Labor Day came, and it wasn’t resolved,” he said.
Joyce said he continues to house illegal immigrants arrested by ICE agents and has seven in custody currently. That makes up the majority of illegal immigrants who had been at the jail. But he said he will not hold illegal immigrants arrested by local law enforcement officers beyond their normal release date unless ICE provides a judicial warrant.
Joyce said he is open to suggestions from ICE that would satisfy his county attorney.
“There is a problem with the system the way it is, and we want to fix it,” he said.
The Morales case is one of a number across the country where courts have restricted the ability of law enforcement authorities to indefinitely hold suspected illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court never has clearly defined the issue, but Hajec said he thinks it will be resolved soon.
In the meantime, Hajec said, Joyce is making the wrong decision.
“I don’t think the voters in that county will be pleased that he’s releasing criminal aliens back on the streets,” he said. “Detainers are totally constitutional.”