AUGUSTA — Kennebec County commissioners have opted to delay consideration of proposal that would spell out how the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office would interact with federal immigration officials.
The matter is scheduled to come up again in two weeks at a work session, held before the May 2 meeting.
The move comes in response to a request by Gardiner resident Louis Sigel, who brought a slate of policy recommendations to county officials Tuesday for their consideration.
The policies, drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union, are designed to clarify how county law enforcement would interact with agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection when dealing with immigrants.
“This protects the county from possible lawsuits,” Sigel said, adding that they can cost tens of thousands of dollars to defend. Sigel is a volunteer with the Maine People’s Alliance. The Kennebec County chapter of that group endorsed this policy at its meeting this month.
Among the recommendations are requiring judicial warrants before anyone could be detained at the request of ICE or CBP officials, requiring federal immigration agents to identify themselves and be clearly identified while at Kennebec County facilities, restricting county law enforcement officials from seeking a person’s immigration status unless the inquiry is part of a legitimate law enforcement purpose that is not related to enforcement of a civil immigration law.
Sigel said none of these recommendations violates federal law, nor would county action have any effect on local law enforcement.
The proposal drew comment from John Martincic, who traveled from Benton to attend the meeting.
“Sheriff’s offices cooperate with federal, state and local law enforcement all the time,” Martincic said. He said there could be an instance in which another law enforcement agency might request a suspect already under arrest to be held additional time so that the appropriate paperwork could be drawn up.
Restricting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement would be a hindrance, Martincic said.
In the past, some states, including New Hampshire, had considered whether to implement immigration status checks of any arrested or detained person in 2012. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that enforcing immigration laws is reserved for the federal government.
Recently, ICE agents have arrested immigrants at courthouses, in the wake of President Trump’s announcement that he would increase immigration enforcement. The arrest of a Somali man at a Portland courthouse in early April prompted scores of immigration attorneys in Maine to urge ICE to end the practice.
It’s not clear what the county could do.
Nancy Rines, chairwoman of the county commissioners, said commissioners want to confer with the Maine attorney general and get input from both the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office.
Counties typically have little ability to enact ordinances, Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said. And while Maine statutes say county commissioners have final authority over the operation of all county offices by elected or appointed county officials, he said, the range of that authority is debatable.
The workshop will take place at 10:30 a.m. May 2 in the county commissioners’ offices at 125 State St. in Augusta.
Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at: