Kennebec County commissioners will consider a resolution that characterizes Kennebec County as a welcoming place when they meet next on May 16.

The move comes after Gardiner resident Louis Sigel brought a request to the county officials in April to adopt an ordinance to guide how the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office would interact with federal immigration officials.

Sigel’s concern is that local law enforcement would be asked by federal immigration officials to detain people based on their immigration status.

Sigel is a volunteer with the Maine People’s Alliance. The guidelines he offered were drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union and made available as part of the ACLU’s People Power grass-roots campaign. They were designed to clarify how local law enforcement would interact with federal agencies such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

Among the recommendations are requiring judicial warrants before anyone could be detained at the request of ICE or CBP officials, requiring federal immigration agents to identify themselves and be clearly identified while at Kennebec County facilities, and restricting county law enforcement officials from seeking a person’s immigration status unless the inquiry is part of a legitimate law enforcement purpose unrelated to enforcement of a civil immigration law.

On Tuesday, in a work session before the regularly scheduled county commissioners’ meeting, both Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney and Kennebec Sheriff Ken Mason said the cooperative relationships they have with federal law enforcement are valuable and they are not willing to jeopardize them. In a number of instances, including a string of pharmacy robberies in 2012 and 2013, federal law enforcement and prosecution were able to handle those cases, Maloney said. They continue to investigate and prosecute child pornography cases.


“I know the local FBI agent,” Maloney said. “He went to grade school in Lewiston with me. These aren’t outsiders; these are Maine people.”

Robert Devlin, the Kennebec County administrator, said the county receives federal grants that might be lost if county officials don’t cooperate with federal officials.

The proposed policies also include measures that are unenforceable, such as requiring federal immigration authorities to wear duty jackets.

While the state’s population is declining overall, the fastest-growing segment is immigrants. Many immigrant families have settled in the Portland and Lewiston areas, more and more, immigrant families are moving to Kennebec County.

Thom Harnett, who works on social justice issues, brought several points for the commissioners to consider. Although he is the mayor of Gardiner, he wasn’t speaking in that role.

“Immigration is a very complicated area of the law,” said Harnett, who recently retired from the Office of the Maine Attorney General. In that role, he said, he is fairly familiar with the training that law enforcement officers receive at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy on immigration issues, and it’s not much.


If local law enforcement officials start playing a role in immigration enforcement, the effect will fall disproportionately on people of color and people whose native language is not English.

“As law enforcement officials and prosecutors, you want people who are victims of crimes to report them,” he said. If a woman is being abused at home, she might not report domestic violence if she’s concerned about her immigration status.

“That makes us all less safe,” he said.

Federal immigration officials also have made mistakes, wrongly starting deportation proceedings on legal residents and arresting people whose immigration documents are up to date, he said.

“Trust can be eroded quickly if local law enforcement is viewed as unfriendly,” he said.

And he’s concerned about liability if deputies were to detain someone for any length of time without a warrant at the county jail.


Mason said the jail cannot accept anyone without paperwork, and it can’t hold people in federal custody.

Because counties have very limited authority to enact ordinances, Devlin suggested drafting a resolution for commissioners to consider instead.

State statutes contain a single reference to the authority to enact ordinances, and it’s about parking lots.

“The statute is clear,” Devlin said. “Counties don’t have home rule, so we don’t have the ability to enact ordinances.”

A resolution could state Kennebec County’s status as a welcoming community with a commitment to diversity, Devlin said.

“I think people don’t realize how welcoming we are,” he said, noting the number of international students who attend Colby College in Waterville and Kents Hill School in Readfield.


The draft is expected to be included on the May 16 commissioner’s agenda.

Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, said Tuesday that because this is a grass-roots effort, it’s not clear how many communities in the state and across the nation are considering them.

“The ideas and the research and tools come from us,” Heiden said. “What people do with them is an experiment in direct advocacy.”

An assessment of the effect has not been done; it may take a few more months to complete.

“I believe on Mount Desert Island a proposal is under consideration with local police and immigration detainers,” he said.

Earlier this year, Gardiner and Hallowell officials said they wanted their cities to be considered welcoming communities.


In late April, South Portland abandoned its bid for a sanctuary city designation.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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