PORTLAND, Maine — If President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his plan to deport the millions of undocumented immigrants he claims have criminal records, Portland’s policy is to cooperate.
Although Maine’s largest city historically has been welcoming to immigrants and has taken steps to protect them, it lacks the policies of so-called sanctuary cities. Since the election, despite Trump’s threat to cut off federal funding, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other sanctuary cities have stood by their policy to guard immigrants from expulsion by limiting cooperation with federal authorities — even to the point of refusing requests to hold undocumented inmates in jail.
Portland has no such policy, and has no plans to enact one.
“Portland is not a sanctuary city,” said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin. City “law enforcement personnel are to cooperate with federal officials, which is contrary to what a sanctuary city would do.”
The city code bars municipal employees — including police — from asking someone about his or her immigration status unless required by law. But the regulation makes exception for cases in which an employee has “reasonable suspicion” someone has committed a felony or has returned to the United States after being deported. And it instructs local law enforcement to work with with agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Maintaining a separation between federal immigration authorities and police is important if local authorities are to keep the trust of immigrant communities in Maine, according to Susan Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.
Portland’s policies do much to maintain this trust, Roche said. But with Trump’s election and talk of large-scale deportations, the city’s refugee and immigrant population is nervous about what policies might be enacted after his inauguration.
“We would want to see our local authorities stand up against any federal attempts to force [police] to become federal immigration officers,” she said.
On Sunday, Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that his administration would immediately begin deporting undocumented criminals when he takes office in January. He previously had pledged during his campaign to round up and deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
From 2009 to 2015, President Barack Obama deported more than 2.5 million people, according to ABC News, more than any other president
Under the most recent proposal, Portland’s policy would mean at least some cooperation from the left-leaning city. Under city regulation, police could inform ICE if they were holding someone known to be in the country illegally and comply with requests from the agency. But since those seeking city services cannot be asked about their legal status, Portland officials may not be able to help identify undocumented immigrants.
There is no settled definition of a sanctuary city. The term is not used by ICE and it is unclear what policies Trump aims to end. The administration of Gov. Paul LePage previously contended that Portland is a sanctuary city, but city leaders argue it isn’t, and they seem comfortable with that.
“I think our policy is pretty strong in terms of protecting immigrants and protecting people across the board,” said Mayor Ethan Strimling.
By definition, undocumented immigrants are difficult to count and track. Trump claimed that there are 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants who have “criminal records” in the United States, but the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 820,000 undocumented felons.
As of 2012, Maine was estimated to be among the states with the fewest unauthorized immigrants. It had fewer than 5,000, according to the Pew Research Center.