SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council is considering a new proposal to protect immigrants and Muslims that likely would avoid sanctuary city designation by the Trump administration and the potential loss of $9.1 million in annual federal funding.

An initial proposal would have blocked the South Portland Police Department from assisting, cooperating or providing information in any federal raids, detentions or deportations of immigrants or Muslims without a warrant or subpoena.

The new proposal, which was drafted with help from the city’s attorney, contains no such ban to avoid running afoul of municipal, state and federal laws, which require law enforcement agencies to share crime reports and enforce laws. It restates an existing department policy against biased policing or profiling and supports the department’s current practice of collaborating with other law enforcement agencies.

“This is an assertion of community policing that already takes place,” said Councilor Eben Rose, who pitched both proposals. “This does not interfere with federal work.”

The council considered the new proposal during a workshop Monday, when it was vetted as a potential amendment to a resolution passed in February also aimed at showing support for immigrants and Muslims.

While Mayor Patti Smith and Councilor Susan Henderson indicated support for the new proposal as a statement of community values, councilors Maxine Beecher and Linda Cohen said they opposed it as unnecessarily inviting federal scrutiny.

Councilor Claude Morgan said he supported the language in the proposal, but questioned whether it was necessary to “poke the bear” if it merely restates department policy. Councilor Brad Fox was absent.

While about 17 residents spoke in favor of the new proposal and seven spoke against it, their testimony indicated that many were confused about what impact it would have on police activity in the city.

Charles Todorich, speaking in opposition, called it “narcissistic moral preening” by people “who want to feel good about themselves.”

Roberta Zuckerman, speaking in favor, said South Portland police should not participate in rounding up immigrants for minor offenses when they should be dealing with real crimes.

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins says he cannot recall the last time federal immigration officials sought his department’s help in arresting someone for violating immigration law.

Police Chief Ed Googins urged the council to support the new proposal because it is “consistent with how the police department presently performs its mission, how we interact with the public and how we work with other agencies.”

Googins said he couldn’t recall the last time federal immigration officials sought his department’s help in arresting someone for violating immigration law. If they did, he said, it would require a warrant and amount to securing public safety at the scene of an arrest.

In addition to nonbiased policing, the new proposal states that the city would commit to:

• Promoting strategies ensuring the ongoing inclusion and long-term economic and social integration of newcomers;

• Continuing its practice of collaborating with federal, state and other local authorities to protect public safety;

• Not seeking federal authority to enforce immigration law;

• Not using city resources to assist or cooperate with any surveillance program or federal registry based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or national origin.

Rose’s proposal comes as South Portland’s immigrant population grows, especially in its public schools, and as the council increasingly takes progressive stands that reflect an evolving and overwhelmingly liberal constituency in what for years has been a working-class community.

The council passed a resolution Feb. 7 condemning violence and hate speech, and expressing solidarity with Muslims, immigrants and all those targeted for their ethnicity, race or religion. The resolution noted that 7 percent of the city’s population is foreign born. Westbrook has adopted a similar resolution and Cape Elizabeth is considering one as well.

South Portland is among several other Maine communities, including Portland and Hallowell, that recently have considered sanctuary status.

If Rose’s initial proposal had been approved, South Portland would have become the first community in Maine and one of more than 170 jurisdictions nationwide – cities, counties and states – that have adopted similar measures against assisting federal immigration officers, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

In January, President Trump signed an executive order encouraging local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration laws and setting up a process for cutting off federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. The move was widely seen as a step by Trump to make good on a campaign promise to deport millions of immigrants deemed to be in the country illegally.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that sanctuary jurisdictions could lose as much as $4.1 billion in future federal grants for refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities, and he suggested that the government would come after grants that already have been awarded.

On Friday, the Trump administration intensified its threats to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, sending letters to nine jurisdictions warning it would withhold coveted law enforcement grant money unless they document cooperation.

The letters went to officials in California, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans – all places the Justice Department’s inspector general has identified as limiting the information local law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities about those in their custody.

In Maine, Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, has proposed legislation that would cut state funding to government agencies that failed to comply with or assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

Correction: This story was revised at 5:28 a.m., April 25, 2017, to correctly state the first name of Charles Todorich.

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