In a response Wednesday to a letter from the governor threatening to remove sheriffs who do not cooperate fully with federal immigration detention orders, the Maine Sheriffs Association said the conflict will require a national solution.

Gov. Paul LePage issued his letter Tuesday to all 16 sheriffs in Maine, after sheriffs in York and Cumberland counties said they would no longer honor requests for detention from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The issue of the administration of the federal detainer process is a national one, with constitutional considerations, and must be resolved at the federal level,” the association said in its statement. “Maine’s Sheriffs are committed to continue to work with all partners to improve the detainer process. To that end, the Maine Sheriffs Association is engaging the National Sheriffs’ Association as well as legal counsel to ensure that the rights of all persons who may come into the Sheriffs’ custody are equally protected.”

The statement, endorsed by all 16 sheriffs, did not take a specific position on whether local jails should honor the federal detention requests.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said Wednesday that all the sheriffs spoke Tuesday afternoon during a conference call that lasted a couple of hours.

“There was a lot of point of views expressed and obviously like with any group, there were different points of view,” Merry said. “I think what many sheriffs were perplexed with is that they were brought into this when it’s something they don’t have any experience with.”

He said sheriffs still have a degree of autonomy to decide how they handle ICE detainers.

The controversy stems from a Sept. 14 decision by Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce to no longer honor ICE detainers.

York County Sheriff William King said he, too, would not honor a detainer if he were to receive one. His jail rarely receives the notices, but currently is housing an inmate who is being held on multiple state felony charges and who is the subject of a request, King said Wednesday.

Maine sheriffs’ response to Gov. LePage

Whether to honor the inmate’s detainer would only come into play if he would otherwise be released, which is not expected in the near future, King said.

LePage on Wednesday released another statement reiterating state laws and executive orders on which he based his original directive.

“We are a nation of laws,” LePage said in the statement Wednesday. “We expect our law enforcement officials to comply with the law.”

He noted, as he did in his previous statement Tuesday, that he had the authority to direct sheriffs to obey all orders related to law enforcement, and could remove sheriffs following a complaint, due notice and a hearing.

ICE detainers are an administrative request for a local agency, such as a sheriff, to hold someone for up to 48 hours who otherwise could be released from jail. The request is designed to give ICE agents time to investigate whether someone should be subject to deportation.

Federal judges, however, have ruled that holding a person simply at the request of another agency without probable cause is a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures.

The ACLU of Maine called LePage’s order “a political move motivated by Gov. LePage’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

“If the governor was truly interested in keeping Maine families safe, he would be listening to the sheriffs. He would not be threatening them for doing their jobs and following the Constitution,” said executive director Zachary Heiden in a statement Wednesday.

Much of the conflict can be traced to the difference in legal authority on which each law enforcement group operates. Federal immigration law is mostly civil, while county jails are set up to hold people on criminal charges.

The Maine Sheriffs Association said it will continue to cooperate with local, state and federal authorities while it attempts to find a national solution to the issue of ICE detentions.

“Without question, every day Maine’s Sheriffs are focused on faithfully and efficiently performing the duties imposed upon them by law,” the group said. “While some of the Sheriffs’ perspectives may well be different from that of the Governor, they all equally respect their statutory obligation to ‘obey all orders relating to law enforcement which they receive from the Governor.’ ”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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