Congresswoman Chellie Pingree on Friday asked federal officials to review plans to co-locate an ICE office in Scarborough with a center that provides therapy and reintegration services for military veterans.
Since last year, veterans advocates have called for the Department of Homeland Security to halt plans to move the Portland Vet Center, currently located on Stevens Avenue in Deering Center, to a building in Scarborough that will also house an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
Town officials have told Pingree’s office that they were not fully informed of the move, and advocates say the quiet rollout has deprived the public of an opportunity to give input on the decision. The ICE facility will use about a third of the 16,000 square feet available at 40 Manson Libby Road that has been leased by the Government Services Administration, which handles logistics for government agencies.
“The community opposition to the relocation of this facility remains strong and continues to grow,” Pingree wrote to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Tae D. Johnson, acting director for ICE.
Not only were local officials not informed that ICE would maintain a presence in Scarborough, veterans and their advocates say that co-locating with the immigration office is a mismatch of missions, and could prevent U.S. service members without legal immigration status from seeking help at the counseling office.
“I have been contacted by town officials, local citizens, veterans, immigration and social justice advocacy groups, and individuals across the State of Maine whose opposition has been driven by ICE’s recent policies and priorities under the previous administration. At a recent Scarborough Town Council meeting, state legislators from the community spoke unanimously in opposition and expressed that they were seeking assistance from the federal delegation to stop the proposed plan,” she wrote.
Currently, the Department of Homeland Security maintains a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in South Portland on Gannett Drive, which hosts some enforcement and removal agents. It’s unclear if the new ICE office represents an expansion of the agency’s footprint in Maine, or if the proposed office simply relocates operations personnel and operations already in place.
While the Department of Homeland Security had reached out to Scarborough town officials in 2017 to notify them that it was seeking office space in town, local leaders did not know what division within DHS would be located there, Pingree wrote.
Pingree said ICE’s presence in the area and its reputation are antithetical to welcoming the recent influx of asylum seekers to Maine.
“Scarborough constituents have stated that they have worked hard for their town to be safe and welcoming, and they feel that the presence of an ICE facility undermines those efforts,” Pingree wrote. “I strongly urge you to review the relocation plan for this facility and engage in an open and transparent dialogue with the local community and elected officials about their concerns.”