Gov. Paul LePage sided with the Portland Regional Chamber in its opposition to a home health care initiative on the November ballot. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Gov. Paul LePage weighed in Wednesday on the controversy over the Trump administration separating children from their parents at the border, saying the families could “go back home.”

“The parents have a right to take their children and go back home,” LePage said to assembled news media after an appearance at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “(President) Trump is not trying to stop them.”

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since April, according to the Associated Press, and Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has been roundly criticized. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, a Maine independent, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, have urged the Trump administration to reverse the policy. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, indicated when asked by an activist at the Portland International Jetport this week that he preferred that families be allowed to stay together.

After withering criticism on moral grounds from Democrats, Republicans, religious leaders and activists, Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to end the family separations. News reports Wednesday afternoon said the “zero tolerance” illegal immigration policy would remain, but parents and children would be detained together. Children can be detained for no more than 20 days for immigration purposes, according to a 1997 federal consent decree.

In many cases, the families attempting to immigrate to the United States are legally seeking asylum, arguing that it is dangerous for them to remain in their home countries because of political unrest or violence. For decades, the United States didn’t separate parents from children for simply crossing the border, either legally or illegally, immigration experts have said. Rather, the families would stay together while a civil immigration court took on their cases.

Sue Roche, executive director of the Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which assists immigrants with legal issues, said LePage is incorrect to say the families could simply go home. She said most of the families in the separation controversy are seeking legal asylum, and they don’t have a choice to safely return to their home country.

“No one is going through that journey without leaving something horrific,” Roche said. “They’re fleeing – often from gangs – to save their lives and save their children’s lives.”

Trump administration officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have said they view the “zero tolerance” policy as a deterrent to immigration.

Maine Political Report



LePage also indicated he would be willing to send Maine National Guard forces to assist at the border if the Trump administration requested it.

LePage said the problem is U.S. laws requiring that when parents are jailed, they must be detained separately from their children.

Roche said although that’s technically true, the United States for decades has not jailed parents for misdemeanor offenses – such as crossing the border at a non-legal port of entry – who are seeking political asylum.

MEDICAID, HOME CARE ISSUES

Gov. Paul LePage speaking at Wednesday’s Eggs & Issues breakfast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The remarks came after LePage’s last appearance as governor before the Portland chamber, where he took aim at a number of state topics, including a home health care issue on the November ballot and Medicaid expansion.

LePage said the referendum process in Maine makes it too easy to get initiatives on the ballot, and he would like to see rules put in place to make it more difficult. Or perhaps make the threshold to approve a referendum higher, such as a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority, he said. Recent ballot initiatives approved by voters included Medicaid expansion, minimum wage increases and legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

“Just stop this madness,” said LePage, the presenter at the chamber’s last Eggs and Issues breakfast of the season.

The home health care initiative on the November ballot would raise the income tax rate by 3.8 percentage points for adjusted gross incomes above $128,000 per year, and would make it so that people who need home health caretaking services because of illness or a disability would be able to pay family members to do the work.

The Portland chamber opposes the referendum, arguing it would make Maine the highest-taxed state in the country for people earning less than $1 million.

The governor’s remarks on the referendum followed a presentation by chamber board President Jim Erwin, who asked attendees to join the chamber in fighting the universal home care ballot question. The proposal is unconstitutional, funded primarily by out-of-state interests and ” a money grab and a power grab” by the Maine state employees union, he said.

Advocates for the ballot initiative have argued that it would help keep seniors and the disabled out of nursing homes.

STILL IN A GOVERNING MOOD

Calling for a tightening of Maine’s citizen initiative process, LePage said, “Just stop this madness.” Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Appearing relaxed while he spoke from the dais, LePage reflected on his eight years in office. He conceded he made mistakes, including the appointment of a supreme court justice whom he didn’t name, but said he was leaving state government in the best financial shape in 50 years. He noted that his strategy to sell bonds to buy back the state’s liquor business will leave Maine with a $500 million surplus once the bonds are paid off.

But it was clear he was not finished with being the state’s chief executive. In addition to calling for defeat of the home care referendum, LePage reinforced his objections to expanding Medicaid, saying the funding needs to be in place before his administration would implement it. Later Wednesday, the House and Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill providing $60 million in funding to cover the state’s share of the costs of expansion, which voters approved in November by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

“Medicaid expansion, it is the law, but we need to adequately fund it,” LePage said, predicting that without adequate financing, hospitals will be left holding the bag.

He also covered old ground, lamenting that well-endowed colleges and universities don’t pay a fair share for the police and emergency services they use, and that too much valuable Maine real estate has been taken off the tax rolls by nonprofit land trusts.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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Twitter: joelawlorph

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