Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce

PORTLAND, Maine — The Cumberland County Jail will no longer hold inmates beyond their release date at the request of federal immigration agents, becoming the first facility in Maine to end the controversial practice.

The policy change comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up immigration arrests throughout New England and begun using aggressive enforcement tactics not previously seen in Maine.

In Sept. 14 letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s South Portland office, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce wrote that his department would no longer honor the agency’s requests to hold people beyond their scheduled release dates.

These requests, known as detainers, place jails in precarious situations. Although frequently made by ICE, federal courts have ruled that the requests do not carry the force of law. And in several wrongful imprisonment suits, sheriffs have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars for honoring them.

Holding someone who could make bail just because ICE asked them to “could violate the individual’s Fourth Amendment right and we could ultimately be sued for false imprisonment,” Joyce said.

An ICE spokesperson called Joyce’s decision disappointing and an “extreme step in the wrong direction,” claiming that such policies give shelter to “serious criminal alien offenders.”

The sheriff said he’s concerned that they are letting people out, but noted that his office doesn’t receive many detainer requests for violent criminals, who generally have longer jail sentences and higher bails.

“We’re really talking about people who are getting caught for shoplifting, driving charges, really misdemeanor charges,” said Joyce.”We’re not talking about the very violent people.”

The sheriff’s office will otherwise continue to cooperate with ICE and comply with judges’ orders to hold people for the agency.

The county jail will also continue to house people that immigration agents have arrested for a fee of $130 a day. Joyce said that ICE arrests account for the vast majority of people the jail has held for the agency, with detainer requests representing only a few over the last year.

The policy change, which was first reported by the Portland Press Herald, was applauded by immigration and civil rights advocates.

“The sheriff’s decision will prevent individuals from being held in Cumberland County Jail when their jail sentence is complete and they have not been charged with any new crimes,” said Susan Roche, executive director of the Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

Over the past year, Joyce said he has seen the number of arrested immigrants passing through the jail increase slightly compared with the two previous years. And immigration arrests across New England rose 85 percent during the early weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, compared with the same time the year before.

Joyce said he’s working with the National Sheriff’s Association to try to close the “due process loophole,” which places sheriff’s offices in danger of potentially pricey lawsuits if they comply with detainer requests.

Mary-Anne LaMarre, executive director of the Maine Sheriffs Association, said her organization had not polled its members on the issue and had no immediate comment.