2017-10-19 / News

Sheriff clarifies stance on federal immigrant orders

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Gov. Paul LePage issued Maine county sheriffs an ultimatum at the end of last month regarding federal immigration orders, but one local sheriff refused to accept it.

York County Sheriff Bill King said he agreed with Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and refused to honor a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to hold individuals who are in the country illegally. While sheriffs are elected in Maine, the governor has the ability to remove them after due notice and a hearing.

King addressed the public 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11 in Old Orchard Beach Town Hall council chambers after receiving several comments on a Facebook post expressing disapproval with his decision. Seven members of the public attended.

“My feelings are that these people are here illegally and my taxes are paying for them,” wrote David Neville of West Newfield on King’s Facebook page. “They are taking our jobs away from people that really need them. So why do you think you should support these people?”

King said he felt an ICE detainer was unconstitutional based on other examples he had read from around the country. A woman in Oregon was held on an ICE detainer for 19 hours and a judge affirmed that her 4th amendment rights, against unreasonable searches and seizures, had been violated. The county that detained her was then forced to settle the case for $27,000 without help from the federal government.

“Some sheriffs, including me, were concerned with the interpretation of key words,” King said. “Such as cooperation with ICE as long as cooperation ‘does not violate the constitution.’ This is why we’re here today. An ICE detainer request keeps somebody longer than the criminal issue allows them to be kept. Constitutional rights are enjoyed by everybody in the U.S., legal or illegal. Few rights are reserved just for citizens.”

As the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE officials often ask local law enforcement members to hold individuals in custody. However, an ICE detainer is merely a request, not an order from a judge. King said there is legal precedent for refusing ICE detainers as well. In July 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled “local law enforcement officials do not have the authority, under state law, to detain a person based solely on a request from federal immigration authorities.”

“A detainer is simply a federal agent saying, ‘I have probable cause,’” King said. “We need a warrant for an individual signed by a judge delivered to help us understand why we’re keeping this individual. If they’re illegal in this country I don’t want them released but there is a legal path for ICE to follow.”

King wants to make sure due process is available to anyone taken into custody.

“ICE has done this for years and it’s never been a problem,” he said. “Now that it’s been challenged we need to change the way we’re doing business. Law enforcement has to evolve.”

The meeting was organized in part by Old Orchard Beach resident and former town council member Michael Coleman. He initially disagreed with King on the topic of ICE detainers, but came to understand the nuances of the situation after speaking with the sheriff. He wanted to give King an opportunity to speak and answer questions from the public.

“I see (King) as a principled man doing his job as he sees it,” Coleman said. “Honest people are going to have a legitimate difference of opinion. I think the sheriff has been doing a decent job here with a tremendously challenging issue. We need to have these conversations in a civil manner on all of these issues no matter what. As a society we have a number of things going on. It’s nice to have forums such as this to express our differences.”

Coleman’s no stranger to immigrants either. His wife, Justyna, is originally from Poland and has lived in the U.S. for 28 years. She came on a six-month visa, which she was able to extend to a year, but ended up staying after meeting and marrying Coleman. Her visa was set to expire in June 1989 as elections in Poland signaled the end of communism in her home country. Her friends and family, who still lived in Poland, urged her to remain in the U.S. as Poland experienced a great degree of uncertainty. Justyna was hesitant to stay past the date of her visa expiration.

“I could not see myself living in the shadow,” she said. “It’s not who I am. I could not stay. I did not feel it was right.”

She had met Michael almost a year before, when she first arrived. Their decision to marry removed the question of her staying or leaving. She’s glad she never lived in the U.S. illegally and sympathizes with those who do.

“I’ve met people since who lived here illegally and the burden of it is humongous,” she said. “I paid my way legally and I waited. It’s mixed emotions because I know how hard it is, it’s an economic hardship. I feel for them, but I believe in the legal process.”

She hopes ICE can provide more specific requirements in the future to reduce the uncertainty local law enforcement agencies sometimes face.

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