The property on 40 Manson Libby Road at the corner of Washington Avenue in Scarborough is undergoing construction with plans for a portion of the building to be converted into an I.C.E. facility. Scarborough Town Council provided an update on the project on Feb. 17. Catherine Bart photo

SCARBOROUGH — Public comments during the town council’s Feb. 17 meeting were in opposition of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or I.C.E., facility currently under construction in town.

The planned I.C.E. facility is located at 40 Manson Libby Road, said Councilor Jonathan Anderson. Scarborough Planning Board approved the project in August, and after a December article in the Bangor Daily News reported on the I.C.E. facility’s construction after delays, members of the public began reaching out to the town.

Council Chair Paul Johnson said the Town Council has received 230 emails in regards to the I.C.E. facility, with 15 of those being from registered voters in Scarborough.

The General Services Administration is leasing the space on Manson Libby Road, owned by MRA Realty, to the Portland Veteran’s Center and the Department of Homeland Security/I.C.E., Anderson said. The I.C.E. facility will use 6,000 square feet of the space’s 16,000 square feet. Developers saying the facility will temporarily hold individuals, not keep them overnight.

The town first learned about I.C.E.’s plans to move to Scarborough in February of 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic started, said Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina. At the time, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree asked that the facility’s opening be delayed until residents could weigh in.

“COVID, I think, kind of disrupted people’s attention on this even though I kept trying to keep this in front of folks,” Caterina said.

In a public statement on Feb. 17, State Rep. Sophie Warren, who was present at the Town Council meeting, said she would like to see public transparency regarding the I.C.E. facility’s construction and is concerned that the facility will be sharing space with a veteran’s center focused on mental health.

“I’m looking to understand better what this facility’s work is going to be, a level of transparency in the process, and to understand if this is a construction that we want in our community,” Warren said.

The issue is far from a zoning or real estate matter, she said at the meeting.

“When you bring a federal agency or allow a federal agency in your town, you take on a lot of responsibility,” Warren said. “So of course you would hear from people outside of Scarborough. Most people who are going to be affected are going to be outside of Scarborough.”

State Rep. Chris Caiazzo told the public and Town Council that he is not yet prepared to consider the I.C.E. facility in Scarborough as a “done deal.”

Caiazzo, Warren and several other legislators are working on a bill regarding the issue to put in front of the state, he said. Testimony from the Town Council or town councilors would be influential.

“If you as a body agree that you don’t think this is a good facility or that you feel like we could do better or we should do better, there are other ways to support our efforts, whether it’s putting forth nonbinding resolutions or something supporting a position,” Caiazzo said.

Public commenters during the meeting were critical of I.C.E. as an organization and concerned about how the facility’s presence in Scarborough would impact the town’s image.

Skowhegan resident Zach Green said he has worked closely with numerous people in I.C.E. detention facilities, hearing firsthand stories of abuse.

“I think of nine men from India who were on hunger strike when I was working with them,” he said. “They were protesting verbal abuse. They were protesting the constant threat of deportation that they were under. They were protesting the quality of food they were given. They were protesting the physical abuse they were subject to.”

Scarborough resident Abigail Henry said she thinks the facility is not welcome in Scarborough.

“For too long, immigrants living in our community have suffered under a cloud of fear of tension or deportation,” she said. “I.C.E.’s policies of arresting and detaining immigrants rests on historical racism and xenophobia. An agency built on hate and prejudice has no place in my town.”

The public needs to find creative ways in preventing the facility’s opening, Skowhegan resident Kelly Merrill said.

The facility is obstructive to the Scarborough community, Scarborough resident Jillian Trapini-Huff said.

“While you (the Town Council) may not have the power right now, I do think it would go a long way to take a public stance against this being in our town,” she said. “This is not the legacy I want Scarborough to have.”

As per the Planning Board and developers, everything met criteria, said Anderson. Scarborough’s zoning ordinance allows for non-municipal government offices in the Industrial Zone.

“Just for those who are unfamiliar, the Planning Board is a quasi-judicial board and they are part of our charter for the town,” he said. “They really do serve as the authority for performing the reviews and making sure these developers are in accordance with our ordinances.”

As long as the building meets the town’s ordinances and the building inspector doesn’t find anything not up to code, the town cannot pull the permit or slow things down, said Anderson.

“I think it’s of note that even if we were to amend the current ordinance, this particular facility, because it met all of the legal requirements up to the point that’s in the law, it would still be grandfathered in and would still be here, so it wouldn’t stop the current facility from coming in,” he said.

People with questions or concerns can continue reaching out to the Town Council and may consider reaching out to state and national representatives, Anderson said.

“This is really at this point a federal matter, and engaging your national representatives is probably the best course of action if your concern is about I.C.E. and immigration overall,” he said.

Anderson is in direct contact with the General Services Administration and I.C.E. and said he can provide the public with additional information as it is presented to him. His email address is [email protected]

In October of 2020, Scarborough Town Council passed a resolution against racial and social injustice, said Anderson. Residents have argued that there is a “moral dilemma” disconnecting the resolution and the I.C.E. facility’s presence.

“That’s partially why we’re having this discussion today, to live true to that resolution and make sure when things come up, when the community identifies a need or opportunity for us to make sure we’re living true to that resolution, that we have that conversation,” he said.

In an email to the Scarborough Leader on Monday, Feb. 22, after the paper went to press, Anderson stated there are things the town can do “to try and protect immigrant rights in our Town even if we are unable to stop the facility from being built.

Some options include “1. A resolution or update to our existing resolution, 2. A Welcoming City Ordinance mirroring Chicago’s and 3. exploring all legal options available to us,” he said.

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