Portland - The ACLU of Maine today sent a letter to all Maine sheriffs and the chiefs of Maine’s largest police departments, outlining the dangers of complying with President Trump’s immigration policy demands. According to the letter, local law enforcement are not obligated under federal law to participate in immigration enforcement, and in fact face potential legal liability for doing so. 

“Local law enforcement should know that they have a choice about whether to comply with the president’s demands when it comes to immigration enforcement,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the ACLU of Maine. “In fact, we’re all better off if they choose not to.” 

The Trump Administration has threatened to strip federal funds from jurisdictions that decline to direct local personnel and resources toward federal immigration priorities. However, prior court decisions indicate that the Administration will encounter substantial hurdles if it attempts to follow through on that pledge.

In particular, the ACLU raised concerns over local law enforcement compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, or written requests that local law enforcement detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after they would otherwise be released. ICE detainers are typically issued without a judicial warrant supported by probable cause. As a result, once the traditional basis for criminal detention of an individual has lapsed, continued detention violates the Fourth Amendment’s bar on unlawful detentions. Hundreds of detainers have been placed on people not subject to removal, including U.S. citizens. Federal courts around the nation have held ICE and local law enforcement agencies liable for unconstitutional detentions under ICE detainers.

The ACLU also raised concerns over participation in the 287(g) program, under which local police officers perform federal immigration enforcement functions. This includes interrogating and arresting suspected noncitizens encountered in the field who they believe may be subject to deportation. This policy encourages officers to racially profile people on the streets and guess at their immigration status based on appearance or accent. It effectively transforms local police into federal immigration agents, but without the federal funds to cover all of the expenses incurred by the local jurisdiction, and without same level of training that federal agents receive.

According to the ACLU’s letter, participation in these programs will undermine law enforcement’s ability to prioritize local needs like responding to emergencies and preventing crime; destroy trust in law enforcement among immigrant communities and make people less likely to report crimes or serve as a witness; cost local jurisdictions millions in added expenses that are not reimbursed by the federal government; and expose local jurisdictions to liability for constitutional violations.

“President Trump’s demand that local law enforcement officers act as immigration agents puts those officers and their communities at risk,” said Heiden. “We offer our full support to local law enforcement if they choose to put the needs of their local communities first.”  

The full text of the letter can be found here: https://www.aclumaine.org/sites/default/files/maine_letter_to_sheriffs_on_ice_detainers_march_2017_1.pdf