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Day One: Gov. LePage Cracks Down on Undocumented Immigrants
01/06/2011  

Only one day into his new job, Gov. Paul LePage has come down hard on undocumented immigrants in the form of an executive order he says he intends to sign. It would give the state's police agencies more flexibility to work with federal immigration officials to identify undocumented residents of Maine. The order will also authorize state and local officials to inquire about the citizenship of people applying for welfare benefits. The Maine Civil Liberties Union says LePage's order unfairly targets immigrants and people of color.

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Day One: Gov. LePage Cracks Down on Undocumented Listen
 Duration:
3:19

Gov. Paul LePage is acting immediately to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining state and local welfare benefits by rescinding an executive order signed five years ago by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

LePage, the state's first Republican governor in 16 years, says his decision will assist law enforcement efforts, and will ensure that only Maine residents receive Maine benefits.

"We are asking our police force to cooperate with federal agencies as relative to all undocumented people in the state, and if they're undocumented, we want to take care of the problem," LePage says. "Because we have got many fiscal issues, and I'm intending to take care of Mainers first."

When asked specifically about the extent of the problem undocumented immigrants pose to the state, the governor respondedly guardedly. "I know of a few right now, so--we many not have many, but we have a few."

News of LePage's action prompted a response from civil liberties activists in Maine. "We hope that Gov. LePage is not suggesting that local and state law enforcement should waste scarce law enforcement resources in enforcing civil federal law," says Shenna Bellows of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

Bellows says that former Gov. Baldacci at one point had signed an executive order that barred law enforcement officials from asking a person about their immigration status. Baldacci later rescinded that order, but left in place a provision that prohibits state and municipal officials from asking about the immigration status of people applying for welfare benefits.

Bellows says if LePage's executive order rescinds that provision of state policy, it will have a chilling effect on immigrants.

"Rescinding that executive order would punish families and children, particularly the families and children of people who fled really terrible things in their home country," Bellows says. "This country and Maine have always been beacons of liberty and freedom. We want to be a welcoming place. Again, this has nothing to do with the economy. It seems to be targeting people based on where they were born and the color of their skin."

"I think that the executive order signed by Gov. Baldacci was troubling," says Maine GOP Senate President Kevin Raye. Raye represents Washington County, which is home to a major Canadian border crossing at Calais. "So I'm pleased that Gov. LePage is taking this step. I think it is in keeping with where the people of Maine are, and I think it's an important step for him to take."

But Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Cain says she is puzzled by LePage's action. "I'm surprised that on day one that Gov. LePage would reverse an executive order that impacts departments he hasn't appointed commissioners to yet," Cain says. "So I want to know more about why, and what is this really getting at? But without a commissioner in place to answer those questions, it really is just amazing to me that that is what we did on day one."

The governor's office was still in the process of formalizing the executive order at air time.



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