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Mayor’s Corner: Maine doesn’t need Arizona-style immigration law

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

Rep. Kathleen Chase, the sponsor of LD 1496, “An Act to Enforce Immigration Laws and Restrict Benefits to Legal Citizens,” suggested on Tuesday that the bill be withdrawn or that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary should vote that it ought not to pass. The committee voted unanimously “ought not to pass,” which in effect kills the bill.

Chase said the bill as written didn’t do what she intended. I wish to thank Representative Chase publicly for being open to dialogue and, upon more understanding as to the effects of her bill, her choice to withdraw it. Below is testimony that I had prepared for the proposed bill.

The proposed bill, LD 1496, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen D. Chase (R-Wells) and co-sponsored by five Republican and two Democratic House members and two Republican Senators, is summarized as follows:

“This bill requires a law enforcement officer who legally detains a person for a suspected criminal or civil violation to require that person to provide proof of citizenship in addition to name, address and date of birth. If a law enforcement officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien, the officer must attempt to determine the immigration status of the person.

“A person illegally in the United States who has been convicted of a crime in this State, following completion of the punishment, must be transferred immediately to the custody of the Unites States Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the United States Customs and Border Protection.

“This bill also requires an applicant for state assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the Maine Care program or the food stamp program or for municipal assistance to be a legal resident of the United States and a resident of this State.”

Below is the testimony I prepared for delivery before the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary on Tuesday, May 10. This bill as proposed should be “dead on arrival.”

My name is Laurent F. Gilbert Sr., and I am currently serving in my fifth year as Mayor of the All-America City of Lewiston. My background has been in law enforcement having served 25 years on the Lewiston Police Department, working my way up through the ranks to chief of police, a position I held for five years before accepting a presidential appointment as the United States Marshal for the District of Maine for eight years.

I then served as the Associate Director of the Maine Community Policing Institute at the University of Maine-Augusta for five years. In this employ, we trained police officers from Kittery to Madawaska in “cultural awareness for law enforcement officers,” as well as in “racial profiling.”

I stand before you today in strong opposition to LD 1496 “An Act to Enforce Immigration Laws and Restrict Benefits to Legal Citizens.”

I implore you not to destroy the good work that the law enforcement community has accomplished in Maine and throughout the United States in addressing racial/bias based profiling. Police departments like the Lewiston Police Department, which is nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (C.A.L.E.A.), must adhere to the standards set by CALEA, which includes racial/bias based profiling. Departments have policies dealing with the issue. This bill undermines that.

Community Oriented Policing is a philosophy that can be defined in a very simple phrase; police working in partnership with its residents to fight crime and disorder. A partnership has to be based on trust. This bill requiring police to ask people about their immigration status will subvert the trust that police have been trying to build for years.

Cities like Portland and Lewiston-Auburn have diverse populations of immigrants who come from countries where they fear their police. If our police become something they fear, they will not report crimes and will not come forward as victims or as witnesses necessary to prosecute criminals. Police need information in order to be effective.

These types of “reasonable suspicion” queries will no doubt lead to law suits. There are no provisions in place to provide federal powers of arrest in order to enforce immigration laws. There are no provisions in place to provide officers with immunity provisions that federal agents enjoy. There are no provisions in the bill to provide training to police officers in the complex immigration laws.

Transporting detainees to a federal detention facility is another financial burden on local communities. All of this will come at significant cost to municipalities, and it is another unfunded mandate that will be passed on to the local property taxpayer. As local communities, we are already overburdened with federal and state unfunded mandates and reductions in revenue sharing. There is definitely a fiscal note to this bill; you need to know what it is, and I doubt that you can come up with what it truly will be.

Immigrants are vital to Maine’s communities and in our state’s economy. In Lewiston, immigrants are working, paying taxes, starting businesses, volunteering and helping revitalize the city, which like the rest of Maine has an aging population. They are what will sustain us.

Lewiston has been working hard to integrate these New Mainers so that those who are resistant to change come to accept that immigrants are an important part of a city, today and in the future. Please do not destroy what we have tried to build over the past 10 years. We have worked too hard to become the All-America City that we are and have been recognized by the National Civic League. We are truly an engaged community.

There is strength in diversity. I point to the thriving City of Toronto, which is probably one of the most diverse cities in all of North America.

Our borders with our neighboring countries are United States borders and not state borders; therefore it is the United States Government’s responsibility to secure our borders. Immigration reform is long overdue in this country and it is the responsibility of Congress to address this problem. We do not need a hodgepodge of state laws that are discriminatory and will not truly address the issue. I would encourage you, as I have, to communicate the need for immigration reform to our Congressional Delegation.

To quote Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere: “This law seems to be offering an Arizona-style solution to a non-Arizona style problem.”

Tourism is one of our major industries in this state. As you enter Maine, we have a sign that reads: “Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be.”  Underneath, we have another sign that reads: “Open For Business.” If this Arizona style bill passes, you might just as well change those signs and have them read: “Maine is closed for business, enter at your own risk and make sure you have your proof of citizenship.” Simply look at the adverse economic impact the bill had in Arizona.

I urge a unanimous “ought not to pass” vote on this bill that should not see the light of day!

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at

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