U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is opening an office in downtown Portland, prompting some activists to hold demonstrations over the weekend and into Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security agency, known simply as ICE, has been the focus of protests in Maine and nationally. “Abolish ICE” became a rallying cry in response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, including the separation of children from their parents at the southern border and the deportation of immigrants who for many years were allowed to remain in the U.S. with their families. Customs and Border Patrol is the lead enforcement agency at the border, while ICE is the primary enforcement agency in the country’s interior.

The new ICE office on the fourth floor of One City Center will have one holding cell, but a spokesperson for the federal agency said the Homeland Security Investigations office specializes in transnational criminal investigations, and will not be focusing on detaining undocumented immigrants who face deportation.

ICE Spokesman John Mohan said Thursday Homeland Security Investigations, a component of ICE, focuses on crimes such as human trafficking, child exploitation, transnational narcotics trafficking, document and benefit fraud, transnational gang activity, terrorism and the illegal movement of people and trade.

 One City Center in Portland will be home to a new office for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Press Herald File Photo

“Although there will be a processing/holding cell at the new location, HSI’s work does not involve the housing/detention of detainees as part of its mission,” Mohan said in an email. “HSI offices are not designed to perform such functions, they are professional office work spaces. This move is simply a re-location of the HSI offices that already exist in the area to a new, downtown office location.”

Mohan did not respond to follow-up questions about the location of the current HSI office that he described as “in the area” or how many employees would be moving to downtown Portland and when.

The closest existing HSI location is in Boston, according to ICE’s website. HSI has 26 field offices in the United States, none of which are in Maine, and has “broad legal authority to enforce a diverse array of federal statutes,” the website says.

Jim O’Donnell, facilities manager at Dirigo Management Co., which manages One City Center, said that ICE’s Removal and Enforcement Office is remaining at its current location on Gannett Drive in South Portland. Dirigo also manages that building.

The move comes as ICE is at the center of a controversial crackdown on undocumented immigrants under the Trump administration, which has included the deportation of people from Maine and other states. In some cases, the people had been in contact with federal agencies for years but were never considered a priority for deportation. The arrival of ICE in the downtown also comes after 400 migrants – primarily asylum-seekers from sub-Saharan African countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – made their way to Portland over the summer after crossing the southern border.

“It very much concerns me,” Sarah Gormady, an activist and chair of the Women’s March Maine, said last week about the new office. “There are a good number of people who don’t want ICE in their town.”

Hamdia Ahmed, an organizer of a protest against a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement office that will soon be open at One City Center in Portland, speaks to people participating in a protest at Monument Square in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Protesters, including those holding signs saying “Abolish ICE” and “ICE is not welcome here,” have been gathering at Monument Square just outside One City Center over the last few days, since word began to spread on social media. A larger group of nearly 100 people gathered to demonstrate Monday. They chanted “Abolish ICE!” and circulated a petition urging the landlord to terminate the agency’s lease.

“We will shut it down,” said Hamdia Ahmed, a local activist who helped lead the rally. “We cannot stay silent.”

Protesters marched from Monument Square to a plaza in front of One City Center and continued chanting, before returning to line up along Congress Street. They were holding signs that said “Abolish Ice,” “No Deportations. Open borders,” “Welcome all new Mainers! Except ICE!” and “Make Portland a Sanctuary City.”

Dirigo Management’s office was closed Monday. The company did not immediately respond to the protesters’ calls for it to terminate the lease.

The estimated cost of renovating the 4,780-square-foot space at One City Center is $320,000, according to city permitting records.

Cat Bates of Portland chants during a protest on Monday against an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office that will soon open at One City Center in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Plans show one detainee holding room at the center of the office that’s designed with “suicide resistant” features, as well as a detainee interview room and a detainee processing area. The office will have a computer forensics lab, evidence room, ammunition and weapon storage, as well as an undercover office and other offices spaces. Bulletproof glass will separate the waiting room from the offices.

The permit was approved on March 15 and the work appears to be nearing completion.

One City Center is a 13-floor Class A office building with a wide variety of commercial tenants, from the Bay Club Fitness center to the Preti Flaherty law firm. It has a first-floor food court that’s popular with office workers and students from Portland High School, who fill the food court during lunch breaks during the school year.

The new ICE office is located next door to the Portland office of the Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Associated Press, and the Forecaster and Currently weekly newspapers.


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