PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Koyce has made a decision that has angered federal immigration and customs enforcement officials, or ICE.
The sheriff said Wednesday that the Cumberland County Jail will stop holding some inmates for immigration agents.
Sheriff Kevin Joyce said his decision is really just about doing the right thing. He said he's following the U.S. Constitution and, to do otherwise, he said, is to violate the Fourth Amendment.
Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff Joyce explained his decision: "So for the past six months, I've been doing a lot of fact-finding."
He said he found an issue of holding people on what's known as a detainer request by ICE to hold somebody in jail beyond releasing them after they could make bail.
"Let's say that the case doesn't build up beyond that and the person who is believed to be an illegal immigrant is found to be legal, then I've just committed a Fourth Amendment violation of false imprisonment."
"My husband was low-hanging fruit," said Sandra Merlim. "They knew right where to come and get him."
Her husband Otto spent 18 weeks in the Cumberland County Jail in 2013, accused of using a fake social security number. He said his boss gave it to him so he could work. In May, ICE agents deported him to his home country of Guatemala.
"What they are rounding people up for now and taking people on the slightest little thing — it doesn't matter if it's a traffic pullover, a traffic stop or a ticket for something. They're just using that as an excuse to do a huge roundup, I believe, and I just think it's ridiculous."
Sandra said she applauds Joyce for what she calls a bold move, though too late for her husband.
New England ICE agent Shawn Neudauer, on the other hand, said "it is disappointing that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has taken such an extreme step in the wrong direction."
"Time and time again we've seen tragic consequences because local jurisdictions declined to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement," he said. "Policies like this deliberately obstruct our country's immigration laws and shelter serious criminal alien offenders."
Joyce shot back, saying, "this does not say we don't hold ICE inmates. I'm not saying that at all. If ICE or Border Control came in with an arrest, we will take them because you're assuming like any police department they have probable cause to do what they've done."
The sheriff says a judicial warrant would ensure that someone held beyond their release date, a detainer, couldn't sue over it.
ICE, however, argues it has the authority to make arrests without a warrant based on probable cause.
Joyce said he remains firm in his decision. If the law does change, and Fourth Amendment rights are protected, he will be happy to reconsider, he said.
"If there’s a judicial warrant issued then we will recognize that. I will also take a detainer with a judicial warrant, but I can’t take a detainer on the guise that I’m holding someone beyond what they would be released for in hopes they won’t come back and sue us.”