FALMOUTH — Gov. Paul LePage doubled down on his insistence that Maine sheriffs work with federal immigration officials Thursday, saying they are obliged to do so even if it might violate a person’s constitutional rights.
The comments follow a week of escalating conflict between the Republican governor and a few Maine sheriffs who said they will no longer honor immigration agents’ requests to hold people in jail beyond their release dates.
It’s an issue that the sheriffs say comes down to respecting people’s constitutional rights and avoiding costly lawsuits, but the governor says it’s a matter of grave public danger.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure [Mainers] are safe,” LePage told reporters Thursday morning after a speaking engagement in Falmouth. “If that means that I have to pick and choose between keeping someone alive and the Fourth Amendment, then I’ll let the courts decide if I violated the Fourth Amendment.”
In announcing last week that he would not hold inmates at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said the people in question are rarely violent criminals.
Immigration officials generally ask that the jail hold people who committed minor crimes, Joyce said, as those accused of major ones usually have higher bails and longer sentences. ICE agents use these requests, known as detainers, to get a bit of extra time to arrest someone who they believe could be deported.
LePage has threatened to fire sheriffs who do not comply with ICE requests, which he says they are required to do under Maine law and one of his executive orders. But that order is explicitly limited by the Maine and U.S. constitutions, and federal judges have ruled that holding people beyond their release can violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.
The governor repeated Thursday that he is ready to oust any sheriff who doesn’t hold people at ICE’s request. But he added that he has not taken steps to begin the removal process and suggested his office could help the sheriffs figure out the issue.
And although LePage insisted that the sheriffs must follow his interpretation of the law, he did not appear to relish the thought of what would likely be a messy removal process.
“I don’t want to see Joyce removed,” he said. “I don’t want to see [York County Sheriff William] King removed.”