Matthew Albence, who’s led U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the last 15 months, overseeing an agency at the center of the national immigration debate — and increasingly under attack by Democrats — will retire at the end of this month.
The career law enforcement man, who started as a special agent with the old Immigration and Naturalization Service then moved to ICE when it was created in 2003, told The Washington Times he’s been working in government for nearly 26 years and “I’d like to try working for myself.”
Mr. Albence said he was leaving on his own terms, and wasn’t pushed out by internal or external forces.
“There were no straws. I’ve had a great run. I’m leaving with nothing but happiness and pride,” he said.
In a brief interview with The Times he repeatedly redirected questions about himself and his tenure back to the ICE agents, officers, lawyers and other employees he said he was privileged to oversee.
“The vast majority of the greatest people I’ve worked with in my life have worked with this agency,” he said. “I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve been able to have such a good run.”
He did, though, bristle at the poisonous attitude that some have taken toward his agency and its employees, who have been compared to Nazis “storm troopers” and the Ku Klux Klan — and that’s just by members of Congress.
“What other agency arrests 50,000, 60,000 criminals a year and gets criticized for doing so?” he said.
Mr. Albence said that the criticism from members of Congress was particularly striking because his employees are carrying out the laws written by Capitol Hill.
“Go after the laws, don’t go after the people that are just doing their jobs,” he said. “If Congress doesn’t like the laws that exist, they certainly have the ability to change them.”
He said a third of ICE’s workforce has a military background, meaning “these individuals were heroes long before they strapped on a badge.
“They certainly shouldn’t be subjected to name calling,” he said.
He pointed out that ICE has gotten budget increases nearly every year this decade, which he took as a sign of support amid all the harsh words.
Mr. Albence’s current formal title is ICE’s deputy director performing the duties of the director.
ICE has been without a confirmed director since the end of the Obama administration. President Trump’s first pick, Tom Homan, served as acting director through June 2018 but never won confirmation. Ronald D. Vitiello, a former Border Patrol chief, became acting ICE director and was nominated, but Mr. Trump canceled the nomination in April 2019, amid the growing border surge, saying he wanted “a tougher direction.”
Mark Morgan, another former Border Patrol chief, became acting director for about a month, then was moved over to lead Customs and Border Protection, and Mr. Albence became the fourth acting director during Mr. Trump’s tenure.
It will be up to the White House and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf to name a replacement.
In an official statement from ICE, Mr. Albence said he “will work alongside DHS and ICE leadership to ensure a smooth transition.”
Mr. Albence was viewed as a key voice for ICE within an administration that has taken a keen interest in all aspects of immigration policy. Earlier this year Politico reported that Mr. Albence was battling the White House over attempts to install more political appointees inside the agency.
Mr. Albence said he pondered retiring when he crossed the 25-year mark, but stayed on in part to help the agency get a handle on the coronavirus.
ICE’s immigration operations have had to deal with the disease in detention facilities.
Other divisions, which get less attention, have also had prominent roles. Homeland Security Investigations launched Operation Stolen Promise to block fraudulent cures and equipment amid the pandemic, and HSI has taken thousands of internet domains off-line.
HSI also plays a major role in targeting criminal gangs, and tracking down child pornographers.
Last year Mr. Albence cut the ribbon on ICE’s new Angel Watch Center, which is responsible for notifying foreign countries when a registered sex offender is traveling overseas.