Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and the U.S. attorney for Maine appear to be at odds over detention requests made by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank

U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank issued a statement this week accusing law enforcement in “sanctuary jurisdictions” of “imperiling the public” by failing to comply with immigration detainer requests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Illegal aliens who commit crimes in this country and end up in state or local custody should not be able to avoid removal or other immigration consequences,” Frank said in a statement issued Monday. “Releasing criminal aliens in the face of immigration detainers imperils the public.”

Joyce, however, who oversees operations at the Cumberland County Jail, called Frank’s statement about putting the public in danger “misleading” and said he won’t comply with undocumented detainer requests because it could make county taxpayers vulnerable to a lawsuit alleging false imprisonment.

Frank’s statement followed comments made last weekend by U.S. Attorney General William Barr during the National Sheriff’s Association winter conference in Washington, D.C. During his speech, Barr highlighted the dangers that “sanctuary policies pose to public safety.”

Joyce attended the National Sheriff’s Conference, but in an interview Wednesday evening said he did not hear Barr’s speech.


An immigration detainer request is typically lodged by ICE against someone who has been arrested on criminal charges and is believed to have immigrated illegally. A detainer asks a law enforcement agency to notify ICE in advance of that person’s release and to hold that person until ICE can assume custody. The detainers in most cases can result in an inmate being held for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release date. It also gives ICE agents time to determine if someone should be subject to deportation.

Joyce came under fire in 2017 when former Gov. Paul LePage ordered the sheriff to hold suspects beyond their scheduled release dates for federal immigration officials or face removal from office. At the time, Joyce said he doubted LePage’s ability to fully understand the nuances of ICE’s detention process and openly questioned whether the governor’s order was lawful.

On Wednesday night, Joyce said that his position on honoring detainers has not changed since 2017, adding that ICE has continued to ignore his requests for probable cause documentation. Joyce said he will honor an immigration detainer request for an inmate if there is probable cause for doing so that has been detailed in a warrant.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce

He said that in early 2019 or late 2018, ICE took the rare step of providing him with documentation that showed probable cause for holding a Cumberland County Jail inmate with connections to a gang on the West Coast. In that case, Joyce complied with the request, holding the inmate beyond his release date and giving ICE the time it needed to take the man  into custody.

“In my world, the magic two words are ‘probable cause,'” Joyce said.

Joyce said that most of the inmates ICE has expressed interest in detaining were arrested for non-violent crimes or misdemeanors, and pose no threat to the public.


Joyce said retainer requests force him to weigh the dangers of releasing an inmate and keeping the public safe against the potential for a lawsuit being filed by an inmate who feels his constitutional rights have been violated.

“It’s a fine line, balancing a person’s constitutional rights and keeping the public safe,” Joyce said. ‘The taxpayers of this county could be held civilly liable if ICE doesn’t establish probable cause.”

Joyce, who was reached after normal business hours, was unable to say how many immigration detainer requests he received from ICE last year.

“It has not been a lot,” he said.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Frank’s office said he would not do any additional interviews regarding the so-called “sanctuary jurisdiction” issue, but made the statement because he “wanted to make his views known as the top federal law enforcement official in the state.”

Joyce said he had not seen Frank’s statement and would not comment on his reference to sanctuary jurisdictions, but the Maine Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Trump administration policies, as well as Frank and Barr’s position on immigration detainers.


“Apparently, to the Trump administration a ‘sanctuary city’ is any jurisdiction that doesn’t do whatever ICE wants it to, whenever ICE wants it done,” Alison Beyea, executive director of the Maine ACLU, said in a statement Wednesday night. “This ignores two important things: first, ICE’s bidding is often at odds with the Constitution. And second, sanctuary cities are safer than their counterparts that comply with ICE’s outlandish demands.”

“This administration has issued any number of vague threats in an effort to bully cities and states into joining their anti-immigrant machine. There is no reason to give in this time,” Beyea said.

In June 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts and New Hampshire sued the federal government, accusing it of violating the Constitution by requiring immigrants at bond hearings to prove they aren’t a danger and a flight risk in order to be released.

“In order to keep someone behind bars in this country, the government must prove why they should be detained, but for immigrants, that is not the case,” Sang Yeob Kim, an immigration legal fellow with the New Hampshire ACLU, told The Associated Press.

In his speech to the sheriffs association, Barr said that sanctuary jurisdictions “package their obstructive policies in idealistic and misleading rhetoric about protecting the immigrant community. Under President Trump’s leadership, we have taken concrete steps to combat the dangerous and unlawful policies of so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.”

Frank said that illegal alien criminals who have been been released after law enforcement agencies have failed to honor detainers have gone on to commit additional crimes, “including violent felonies.”

When law enforcement agencies release criminal illegal aliens, immigration officials must locate and arrest them in the community rather than in the secure and controlled environment of a jail or prison, a time-consuming process that could place the public in danger, Frank said.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:44 a.m. on February 13, 2020 to clarify that Halsey Frank is the top federal law enforcement official in Maine.


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