PORTLAND, Maine — A former federal prosecutor, a patent lawyer, a law professor, a civil rights activist and an ex-public defender are among the 179 lawyers licensed to practice in Maine who signed a letter opposing the arrest of immigrants in courthouses.
The letter, dated Friday and addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, urges federal authorities to halt the practice of arrests at courthouses. It also calls for adding courthouses to the existing list of “sensitive locations,” including houses of worship and religious ceremonies, where ICE arrests are discouraged.
The letter, released Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, was written in direct response to the Thursday arrest of a Somali man inside a Portland courthouse, after he pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Thursday seized Abdi Ali, 28, who had just finished meeting with his attorney at the Cumberland County Courthouse after being arraigned on a drunken driving charge when three ICE agents grabbed him, pushed him against the wall and roughly handcuffed him before walking him out of the court, according to his attorney Tina Heather Nadeau of Portland.
Nadeau and other lawyers who work in immigration said last week that Ali’s arrest was the first time they were aware of immigration agents detaining someone in a Maine courthouse. The incident appeared to signal the first local example of President Donald Trump’s more aggressive immigration enforcement.
“ICE arrests at courthouses undermine the fundamental constitutional guarantee that all people have the right to seek redress from our court system — including people accused of crimes, witnesses to crimes and victims of crimes,” the letter said. “No one should be afraid to seek justice because of his or her immigration status.”
In addition to Nadeau, Ali’s attorney, the lawyers who signed the letter included: Stacey D. Neumann, formerly with the U.S. attorney’s office, now in private practice; James B. Haddow, a patent attorney in Portland; Christopher Northrop, who supervises the legal aid clinic at the University of Maine School of Law; Patricia A. Peard, who fought for many years to pass same-sex marriage laws in Maine; Virginia Villa, who was the federal public defender in Bangor for a decade, now of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.
BDN writer Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report.