AUGUSTA, Maine — In one of his first official acts, Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday issued an order allowing officials in state agencies to question people with whom they come into contact about their immigration status, infuriating civil libertarians.
The Republican’s executive order Thursday rescinds one that had been issued by his Democratic predecessor, John Baldacci, that barred state officials from asking about immigration status. It says the previous order “may have created the impression that Maine was a so-called ‘sanctuary state’ for those who are in the United States without lawful status.”
LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt said the governor wanted to send a message to those who have heard it’s easy for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and social services in Maine.
LePage, asked why he issued the order, said, “We have got many fiscal issues, and I’m intending to take care of Mainers first.”
The order also requires state employees and officials to cooperate with federal officials “on all matters pertinent to immigration.”
When Baldacci first issued his order in 2004, it prevented officials, including law enforcement, from inquiring about the immigration status of anyone applying for government services. Baldacci amended it the next year so it no longer covered law enforcement after federal border patrol agents and others expressed concern that it would keep them from cooperating in federal investigations.
The ban under Baldacci did not apply to judges. Members of the judiciary regularly ask defendants where they were born and what their immigration status is. When defendants tell a judge they are not U.S. citizens, their cases usually are continued to give the defendants time to consult with attorneys about how convictions would affect their immigration status.
The Maine Civil Liberties Union’s Shenna Bellows said she fears LePage’s order is “the first step in an anti-freedom agenda” and an opening for profiling.
“We all have a responsibility to ensure that the most vulnerable among us don’t freeze to death, don’t starve to death or die of treatable disease this winter,” said Bellows. “It doesn’t matter where you were born. We’re all human and we’re responsible for one another.”
The governor issued a separate order that continues a hiring freeze in state government that had been issued by Baldacci because of the state revenue shortfall.