Immigration agents tasked with finding, detaining and deporting illegal immigrants will open an office in Scarborough that will be shared with a Veteran’s Administration group that provides therapy and support to veterans, raising concerns that the shared location is a mismatch of missions.
The federal agency responsible for leasing and securing office space plans to locate an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 40 Manson Libby Road in a nondescript office building. It will be home base for local enforcement and removal agents, and act as a processing center for detainees before they are moved to longer-term detention centers or jails.
The Scarborough location is also expected to house the Portland Vet Center, which provides counseling to veterans from around Southern Maine and is currently located on Stevens Avenue in Deering Center.
It is unclear whether opening the Scarborough office represents an expansion of ICE’s footprint in the state, a re-organization of its current personnel and offices, or a cost-saving measure to consolidate rent and utilities at one place.
The Department of Homeland Security maintains a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in South Portland on Gannett Drive, which previously hosted some enforcement and removal agents.
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE in New England, declined to comment Friday evening about the move, and said the agency would look into questions posed by a reporter next week.
Nationwide, ICE maintains 24 regional enforcement and removal offices in 18 states. The closest publicly listed office is in Boston, which has responsibility over enforcement operations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The move would mark the second time in recent weeks that an ICE-affiliated office moved its shop in Maine.
In October, ICE officials moved an investigative unit – Homeland Security Investigations – from the office on Gannett Drive to the fourth floor of One City Center in downtown Portland, sparking protests outside the downtown location. In January, protesters projected the message “EVICT ICE” onto the side of the building and set up a cage made of fencing outside.
The protests drew the attention of acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, who flew to Portland for a day last month where he met with media and rejected the protesters’ narrative.
In an interview with the Portland Press Herald, he refuted the notion that Homeland Security Investigations staff has anything to do with removing illegal immigrants from the United States. HSI focuses on human trafficking, weapons smuggling and other security-related issues, he said. And in a Jan. 16 op-ed published in the Press Herald, Albence called out the protesters and said they were essentially advocating for criminals to remain free.
“These ignorant, inflammatory efforts to block enforcement of this nation’s criminal statutes by hardworking, patriotic Americans who live in the same communities they serve, stand only to put these communities – and the entire city of Portland – at risk,” Albence wrote. “These protesters are advocating for dangerous criminals to roam our streets with impunity.”
Housing the law enforcement group in the same building as the veteran’s support and counseling center proved vexing for the veteran’s group’s executive director, Clifford Trott. When asked whether Trott believed the Vet Center’s move to Scarborough was in the best interest of the organization, he deferred to a Veteran’s Administration spokeswoman.
“I’m mixed, how’s that?” Trott said, and declined to elaborate on his reasoning. “I’ll let the public affairs person talk about that.”
Neither Trott nor a VA spokeswoman, Jessica Schiefer, responded to multiple requests for an interview in recent weeks, and they did not offer responses to a list of eight questions about the move and the co-location with ICE.
But in an email obtained by the Press Herald, Trott was more candid about his preference that the Vet Center not share a location with the law enforcement agency.
“I am very eager to relocate, as you know,” Trott wrote to Alisha Wofford, an employee with the U.S. General Services Administration, which coordinates logistics for federal offices, including buying and leasing properties that house agencies. “However, it needs to be the right location. In my opinion, this is not that site.”
In her response, Wofford reassured Trott that there would be no negative effects to the Vet Center’s clients, many of whom are veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Wofford likened the new ICE facility to a police station, where detainees are held only long enough fingerprint and process their information into the immigration detention system. Wofford also referenced a fence that will surround a parking lot that will hold federal vehicles and sought to allay concerns about what it might convey. There will be no overnight holding cell or facility with bars, she wrote.
“The space will be low key and not brightly advertised as an ICE location,” Wofford wrote in a Dec. 2019 email. “The GSA property manager does not speculate that protests will be a problem for the vet center. Also, we discussed the fence being for the government vehicles and not ostentatious enough to trigger any of the visiting veterans. You should not have to worry about ICE having any negative impact on the vet center. I hope this clears up the confusion.”