PORTLAND — Four protesters — including an Auburn minister — were each sentenced Friday by a federal judge to 25 hours of community service for protesting outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in South Portland in 2018.

Rev. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, who has served as minister of the First Universalist Church in Auburn since 2000, Jessica Stewart, Matt Bear-Fowler and Cecila Corey were all facing a Class C misdemeanor of failure to obey a lawful order, the lowest petty offense under federal law.

Around 30 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at One City Center an hour before Friday’s trial and marched to the U.S. District Court at 1 p.m. to await the verdict.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rich, after finding all four guilty, declined to give them a jail sentence or fine, saying he recognized their acts constituted civil disobedience and that “while the law was violated, it was done not only in a nonviolent way, but even in a respectful way.”

The 2018 protest, which was organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership and the Maine Poor People’s Campaign, was against the Trump administration policy of separating parents and children at the southern border.

According to Rich, the protesters in 2018 were given permission to demonstration on a lawn next to the South Portland office, and at some point, some of the protesters attempted to enter the building vestibule.

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While most of the protesters returned to the lawn after being asked by law enforcement, Rich said that the four protesters on trial Friday remained in the parking lot, even after being warned that they would be cited if they stayed.

Hayashida wrote on her Facebook page that she and the three other protesters went into court expecting to be sentenced to jail.

“The judge surprised us all by sentencing us to community service,” Hayashida wrote. “He told us he was impacted by the powerful testimony of those who spoke before sentencing.”

“As small a moment as it was, in the grand scheme of things,” Hayashida continued, “it reminded me that as often as it feels like we are shouting into the void, when we scatter the seeds of truth, sometimes they find fertile ground.”


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