SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Lawmakers led by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, are asking a federal agency to delay the operations of a planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility outside Portland, which would temporarily detain immigrants suspected of immigration violations.
They are pushing for more transparency, saying that an ICE facility could traumatize veterans who seek services at a veterans health agency slated to operate in the same building. Specifically, they are encouraging ICE to conduct public meetings in Scarborough and present its plans for this facility.
Pingree wrote a separate letter Monday to the General Services Administration, a federal agency that manages real estate for the government, saying the facility could “negatively impact the immediate area,” and would “deter non-citizens from seeking medical treatment.”
“The presence of detained individuals at or transiting to the ICE facility could be harmful to veterans diagnosed with trauma-induced mental health disorders,” Pingree wrote in a letter to GSA administrator Emily W. Murphy.
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ICE plans to operate a holding facility for immigrants at 40 Manson Libby Road in Scarborough, according to documents obtained by the BDN through the Freedom of Information Act last month.
The email was heavily redacted, but the full version said ICE authorities will process, fingerprint and detain people suspected of immigration violations there. People apprehended by ICE agents could be kept in onsite holding rooms for hours but would be transported in unmarked vans to an overnight detention facility elsewhere, if necessary, according to the email.
A lease between the Department of Homeland Security and Maine Realty Advisors was signed in April, 2019, according to a GSA spokesperson.
Josh Soley, a principal at Maine Realty Advisors, denied knowledge when asked by the BDN on multiple occasions if a lease had been signed. But a GSA official confirmed that Soley was made aware of the lease last April.
Maine Realty Advisors owns real estate and manages properties throughout the state. The group announced in January that it would be converting a 200-year-old former monastery in Portland into low-income housing for asylum seekers.
Pingree said it’s her understanding that ICE does not have to engage in a community process, but lawmakers are making a case for more dialogue about the project.
“Particularly when you have this quasi-police facility in an area where people aren’t expecting it, the community should be engaged in this conversation,” Pingree told the BDN.
Five state legislators wrote a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation on Feb. 21, asking that they “please strongly encourage ICE to conduct public meetings in Scarborough” before opening the holding facility.
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A spokesperson for Pingree said the office had received mail from a concerned veteran.
The Trump administration rolled back a set of national detention standards for ICE facilities in December, weakening standards for sanitation and expanding ICE agents capacity to deploy force and the use of restraints and giving them more ability to block access to the press and legal aid organizations.
A director for the veterans health agency declined to comment.