A rear entrance and driveway at an industrial office building at 40 Manson Libby Road, where Department of Homeland Security officials are planning to operate an ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations holding facility for immigrants suspected of immigration violations. Credit: Nick Schroeder / BDN

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Locals protesting a new federal immigrant detention facility want the town to pass an ordinance that would prevent the local police department from cooperating with U.S. immigration officials.

The group De-ICE Maine, which organized against construction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, holding facility at 40 Manson Libby Road in Scarborough after plans quietly passed last fall, see the local path as a legal tool against the functioning of the ICE facility, which is nearly complete.

“We have not yet been able to close the facility, but we can make it impossible for ICE to do business as usual in Scarborough,” De-ICE Maine posted on Sunday. “To that end, we want Scarborough Town Council to pass an ordinance preventing cooperation with this racist and rogue agency for reasons of public safety, town finance, and moral grounds.”

Kelly Merrill, an organizer with De-ICE Maine, said the group needs 25 signatures to get consideration from the council.

The local push presses against LD 1340, a bill intended to “ensure municipal compliance with federal immigration laws” to override home rule laws that determine police departments’ standard operations with immigrant communities.

Plans for an ICE facility in Scarborough have been in the works at least as early as April 2019, when Maine Realty Advisors signed a lease with the General Services Agency, which handles contracts for the government. The Bangor Daily News first reported plans for the facility in February 2020 after receiving a copy of the lease through a public records request.

Proposals for the facility passed Scarborough’s planning board in September. Opponents of the facility have argued for a more public process, saying the proposal passed too quickly under cover of the pandemic.

In October, Scarborough’s town council passed a resolution against racial and social injustice, which protesters say contradicts the facility.

Since 2016, ICE has detained a rising number of arrestees suspected of immigration violations at the Cumberland County Jail before transferring them to long-term facilities elsewhere. That number spiked during the pandemic, prompting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who say they failed to respond to public records requests about transfers of immigrant detainees.

“The work that De-ICE is doing is filling all of us immigrants across the country with hope,” said Elba Cruz, a De-ICE member who immigrated to the US 10 years ago told the Maine publication Amjambo Africa. “It’s great that we have people that are willing to fight for us and speak for us because we can’t speak for ourselves in fear of being detained.”