The Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility at 40 Manson Libby Road in Scarborough. Brianna Brianna Soukup photo/Press Herald

SCARBOROUGH – Federal judge John A. Woodcock has ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to search for and release records about the organization’s detention practices in Maine and its proposed Scarborough facility. The ruling comes in favor of Maine immigrant advocacy groups after two years of legal conflict.

The plan to open a ICE facility in Scarborough has been public knowledge since February 2020, and has seen protests and criticisms for an alleged lack of transparency and consultation with local residents and representatives. A public information request was filed in January 2021 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, and the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law.

The request sought information on the Scarborough facility and records on the transfer of detainees going in and out of the ICE detention facilities in Maine and the practice of holding immigrant detainees from other New England states in the Cumberland County Jail.

The groups filed a lawsuit after the agency failed to release the information within 20 days, which the lawsuit said is a violation of its responsibility under the Freedom of Information Act. The lawsuit also alleged that ICE had used the Cumberland County Jail as a temporary detention facility to aid the transfer to southern states during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that in the process detainees were subject to dangerous and unhygienic conditions during travel and in destination facilities.

“Families are at risk of being broken up, and people in ICE custody face real harm. It’s harder for them to access legal assistance,” Philip Mantis, legal director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in 2021, said at the time. “With the stakes so high, ICE must be held accountable for following the law and being transparent in its conduct.”

ICE ultimately yielded almost 2,000 pages of documents in response to the request. According to the ACLU, the documents related mostly to mundane topics such as carpet choice for the facility and ignored the bigger issues about the facility’s operations.

The recent court ruling deemed that the agency failed to produce key documents about the Scarborough facility. The judge ordered ICE to conduct a new search on the agency’s detention practices in Maine and the proposed Scarborough facility.

“The district court’s final decision is a victory for transparency that will shed more light on ICE, an agency that operates in the shadows and evades public accountability,” said ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan. “The court’s action makes clear that federal agencies like ICE have no right to operate in Maine without allowing the public to know what they are doing.

“ICE has a long history of abusing its power, physically and psychologically harming people, and rejecting basic standards of human decency. When we know what ICE is doing, we can resist its abuses.”

Comments are not available on this story.