Maine immigration ‘sanctuary’ bills pose tough choice for lawmakers

AUGUSTA, Maine — The national immigration debate was helping drive a debate in a Legislative committee on Wednesday, as lawmakers hear two dramatically different visions of immigration in Maine.

The central issue in the competing bills is what’s become known as ‘sanctuary’ states or cities. The question — should local police get involved with enforcing federal immigration laws? 

RELATED: Bill to make Maine a ‘sanctuary state’ debated in Augusta

Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop) wants to ban state and local police from investigating people’s immigration status or helping federal agencies to do so. His bill would still allow police to handle criminal cases where immigration comes up, and they could still help federal agencies with criminal cases.

RELATED: Portland faces shelter crowding as asylum seekers arrive

Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst) wants to punish any towns and cities that enact their own sanctuary restrictions by imposing big fines. In testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Lockman was harshly critical of Portland, which has had a local ordinance similar to Hickman’s for more than a decade. He says there are too many crimes being committed by illegal immigrants.  

“If you want to make your municipality a magnet for illegal immigrants, including terrorists, that’s the ticket. Let the whole world know your local police won’t even ask criminal suspects if they’re in the country legally,” Lockman said.

Hickman says immigrants need protection from the policies and actions of the federal agencies under the Trump administration.

“I don’t think anyone wants our esteemed law enforcement agencies to have to participate with a corrupt federal immigration agency any more than required by federal law,” Hickman told the committee.

There were supporters and opponents for both bills at Wednesday’s public hearing. But law enforcement isn’t taking sides. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association and Maine Sheriffs Association both told lawmakers they don’t want either bill to pass, saying they want to protect relationships with federal law enforcement and don’t want to be enforcing immigration laws.

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