This week I visited the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in San Antonio, Texas, where, in the early morning hours of Aug. 13, shots were fired into an office occupied by federal law enforcement personnel hard at work protecting the citizens of this country. The FBI has called this crime, “a deliberate and highly targeted attack against federal law enforcement personnel.” Bullet holes riddled several windows, and we are incredibly fortunate that no one sustained life-threatening injuries or was killed as a result.
Tragically, this wasn’t the first attack on ICE employees. In fact, it’s the fourth time in little more than a month that something like this has happened. In Tacoma, Washington, local law enforcement responded to an attack, and shot and killed an armed man who was throwing Molotov cocktails at an ICE detention facility and nearby vehicles, as well as attempting to ignite a large propane tank in an attempt to damage or destroy the facility, and to cause harm to those inside.
Additional incidents at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at our facility in Aurora, Colorado, devolved from peaceful protests to large-scale disturbances, limiting entry and exit from government buildings, and threatening the dedicated civil servants and contractors therein.
Attacking ICE facilities and endangering the lives of ICE employees who faithfully enforce the laws set forth by Congress is abhorrent criminal behavior that will not be tolerated and should be universally condemned. While there is much debate by the media and in Congress about how to fix our country’s immigration system, there should be no debate about the fact that violence toward and vilification of the patriotic women and men who put their lives on the line to enforce the law is unwarranted and patently unjust. In no other context is a federal law enforcement agency asked to ignore their lawful sworn duty — and from the very body that established those duties.
While the humanitarian and public safety crisis — and the associated public debate — along our Southwest border reached new levels of urgency this year, the illegal influx of migrants into the country has been consistent for several decades. First and foremost, this intractable problem requires congressional action to fix loopholes in U.S. immigration law and address the many pull factors that encourage people to subvert our laws and illegally enter the United States. Concurrently, Congress must also provide the agencies charged with securing our borders and our nation with the adequate number of personnel and resources to do so effectively.
ICE is a federal law enforcement agency whose agents and officers are fiercely dedicated to serving and protecting the American people. For more than a hundred years, the men and women of ICE and its legacy agencies have worked with steadfast focus and unwavering determination to protect U.S. citizens and residents from various transnational criminals, including terrorists, human traffickers, violent gangs, drug smugglers, and recidivist criminals that threaten the safety of our children and the security of our communities.
Our record of investigative success — both domestically and internationally — as in the case of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman who was recently sentenced in the United States to life in prison plus 30 years, strengthens national security, hardens our borders, and improves public safety for all who have the privilege of living in this great country. Through new and ongoing initiatives, we have established highly effective partnerships with our state and local law enforcement agencies, and diligently strive to provide useful outreach and transparency to Congress, the media, and most importantly, the American people.
Despite fervent and emotional debate regarding our country’s immigration issues, a hallmark of our democracy has been and should continue to be our ability to unify as a country to solve our most challenging and nuanced problems; and those charged with enforcing the laws of the land are treated with respect and not subject to harm, harassment and ridicule for simply doing their jobs. ICE will continue to investigate criminal activity and honor our oath to faithfully protect and defend the United States, and we will do so as we have always done — with integrity, courage and excellence.
• Matthew T. Albence is acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).