PORTLAND — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday weighed in 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 Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. “(President) Trump is not stopping them.”

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since April, according to the Associated Press, and the practice has been roundly criticized. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, are urging the Trump administration to reverse the policy. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, is studying the issue, but he indicated when asked by an activist at the Portland International Jetport this week that he preferred famillies to stay together.

In many cases, the families attempting to immigrate to the United States are legally seeking asylum, which means it is dangerous for them to remain in their home countries because of political unrest. For decades, the United States has not separated 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 takes on their cases.

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

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

The remarks came after LePage’s last appearance as governor before the Portland Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, when 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 to get a referendum before voters. Or, make the threshold to approve a referendum higher, such as a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority. Recent ballot initiatives approved by voters included Medicaid expansion, minimum wage increases and legalizing marijuana.

“Just stop this madness,” LePage said. He was 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 income taxes by 3.8 percent for adjusted gross incomes above $128,000 per year, and would make it so that people who need home health caretaking services due to illness or a disability would be able to pay family members to do the work.

The Portland Chamber is against 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.

Appearing relaxed while he spoke from the dias, LePage reflected on his eight years in office. He conceded he made mistakes, including the appointment of a superior 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 defeating 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. The House passed a funding bill on Tuesday, but LePage said it wasn’t enough. A health advocacy group, Maine Equal Justice Partners, is suing the administration for failing to implement the expansion after voters approved it in November.

“Medicaid expansion, it is the law, but we neeed 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.

Gov. Paul LePage speaking at an Eggs & Issues breakfast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland on Wednesday morning. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)

Gov. Paul LePage speaking at an Eggs & Issues breakfast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland on Wednesday morning. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)