County sheriffs and Gov. Paul LePage have reached an understanding on how to handle federal immigration authorities’ requests to detain prisoners, apparently putting to rest weeks of speculation that the governor may try to oust uncooperative sheriffs from office.

In a joint statement released from LePage’s office Wednesday, it was agreed that “county sheriffs play an important role in our constitutional republic and do a great job keeping our families and communities safe and free.”

The statement continues that LePage “will work to empower Maine sheriffs to work cooperatively with federal immigration authorities to make certain that federal immigration law is being properly enforced in the State of Maine.”

On a radio show last month, LePage threatened to remove from elective office at least two county sheriffs if they failed to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seeking to have defendants detained by county authorities until agents could take custody of them. LePage noted that the Maine Constitution gives him the authority to take steps toward their removal from office if they fail to perform their duties under the law.

According to news reports, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce had said he wouldn’t hold inmates at Cumberland County Jail in Portland beyond their release dates without a court order or warrant, even if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents requested it.

Sheriffs from all 16 counties met Monday with LePage in the Cabinet Room at the State House and agreed to the joint statement released Wednesday, Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said.

Samson said he hadn’t been asked by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain prisoners beyond their release dates. The Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn doesn’t house federal prisoners, he said.

Maine Sheriffs Association President Wayne Gallant of Oxford County said Wednesday, “We’ve come to a resolve where we believe we’re all working toward what’s best for our communities.”

He said sheriffs are working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to make sure that “the proper paperwork is in place and probable cause standards are being followed.”

Asked whether the governor would no longer threaten to remove a sheriff for not complying with a request from U.S. immigration officials, Gallant said, “I can’t answer for the governor. My impression from the governor is that his statement — and the statement stands — that if he gives an order to a sheriff and it’s not done, then it could be cause for removal.”

Each sheriff will continue to act in keeping with the standards of his respective jail, Gallant said.

In Oxford County, he said, that means “if somebody comes to my facility, whether it’s a federal detainee or whether it’s from a local police department, if they don’t meet what’s required to get them to the jail, then there’ll be a disruption in that process.”

Gallant said the association has been meeting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to urge them to come up with a better way to meet probable cause standards in their paperwork.

“Once they start meeting those probable cause standards, there shouldn’t be a major problem,” he said.

They’ve also discussed changes to state law and federal guidelines that might help bridge the divide between U.S. immigration officials and county sheriffs, he said.

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Gov. Paul LePage


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