On Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting director Matt Albence announced his retirement from the agency, after serving in his position for just over a year.
Albence began his work in federal immigration enforcement in 1994 and has moved positions over the years. He had briefly led ICE before, between Ronald Vitiello’s departure and Mark Morgan’s appointment in May 2019. Shortly after, Morgan shifted to lead Customs and Border Patrol, leaving the position to Albence once again. He was never formally nominated for the job by Trump.
As director, Albence oversaw controversial and inhumane operations. During his time with the agency, he supervised the expansion of the largest immigration detention system in the world that has separated families as detention centers become a breeding ground for the COVID-19 virus. Just earlier this month, a federal judge rejected a plea to release immigrant families from ICE custody.
Parents are now having to choose between separating from their children or staying together and risking their exposure to the virus. Throughout the pandemic, immigrant advocates have become increasingly concerned over the health of families and children in ICE detention centers.
Albence has also tried to evade responsibility for the agency’s separation of families. In an August 2019 interview with NBC, he stated that “the parents or the individuals that are breaking the law are ultimately the ones that are responsible for placing their children in this situation.” Although the agency, under Albence’s lead, has the legal authority to keep or release families together, it has refused to do so.
ICE has often been criticized for its aggressive policies that criminalize immigrants and separate families, but it has especially fallen under public scrutiny during the Trump administration. “The view of the agency as something that was purely malignant really happened after Trump was elected and ramped up interior enforcement in a way that was tied pretty explicitly to the creation of a white ethnostate,” said Sean McElwee, who co-founded Data for Progress and is credited with the creating of #AbolishICE. The agency, a central part of Trump’s campaign and platform, is now left without a clear successor.
Albence plans to leave his position by Labor Day, giving the agency just over a month to transition to new leadership.
Sources: Feminist Newswire 7/23/20; NBC News 8/13/20; Vox 7/9/20