Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained a man from Somalia in Portland Thursday, the first arrest of its kind in a Maine courthouse.
Now, some worry the ICE arrest could have a chilling effect among Maine’s immigrant community.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for our city, and I don’t think it’s healthy for our state,” said Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who is calling on county officials to consider a policy for ICE agents going forward.
Attorney Tina Nadeau said she was meeting with her client, Abdi Ali, after he made a court appearance for an OUI charge Thursday morning. She said three ICE agents arrested him in the hallway of the courthouse as soon as they ended a private meeting.
“I did not expect it to go down in that courthouse,” said Nadeau. “This is extremely rare.”
Mary Ann Lynch, a spokesperson for the Maine Judicial Branch, said she is not aware of ICE agents making arrests inside courthouses before, and that the judicial branch does not have a policy about this.
A spokesperson for ICE said agents typically only make arrests inside courthouses if they have exhausted other options.
“There needs to be a conversation about this,” said Steven Biel, a spokesperson for the group Progressive Portland, which is now circulating an online petition to have county officials oppose ICE arrests inside court facilities.
Biel said if immigrants are worried about deportation they may not want to report crimes to the police or appear in court to testify, crippling the criminal justice system.
“You might be the victim of a crime, and the witness is an undocumented immigrant,” said Biel. “All of a sudden, the perpetrator is going to walk.”
Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, an immigrant from Ghana, said he has been fielding phone calls from members of Maine’s immigrant community about this recent arrest.
“There’s a lot of concern about what’s next,” said Ali. “Are [ICE agents] going to into schools or hospitals?”
ICE spokesman Alvin Phillips said this case was “cut and dry,” and Abdi Ali is going through the process of being deported.
“ICE arrested a citizen of Somalia… The subject has an extensive criminal history that includes convictions, including two convictions for assault,” said Phillips in a written statement.
Portland’s Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his officers were not aware of the ICE raid and did not coordinate with them.
“We work very hard to build trust between the Portland Police Department and all immigrant communities,” said Chief Sauschuck.