President Trump's top official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Matthew Albence, will soon leave his post at the helm of an agency at the center of the nation's contentious debate around immigration.
Albence announced his retirement in a statement Friday, saying he said he would remain at the agency for another month to "ensure a smooth transition." "I am grateful for the opportunity to serve my country and to help protect it from those who would do it harm," he said in a statement.
"Every day, against incredible odds, constant politicization, and misperceptions of the incredibly critical and complex mission they perform, ICE employees carry on with professionalism and integrity," Albence added. "I will continue to be an advocate for the important work they do every day."
Since July 2019, Albence has led a law enforcement agency in charge of deportations, immigration arrests and detention, as well as investigations into international criminal activity, like drug smuggling and human trafficking.
Albence's departure was first reported late Thursday by the Washington Examiner.
Albence was first tapped to lead ICE on an interim basis in the spring of 2019, as the White House ousted several high-ranking Homeland Security officials during a surge in border-crossings of Central American families and children. Before that, he was the top official at the agency's deportations and detention division. Albence was acting director for only a few weeks in April and May 2019 before being replaced by Mark Morgan, who would later leave ICE to become the acting commissioner of U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Upon Morgan's departure, Albence returned to lead ICE. During his tenure, the agency continued to expand the largest immigration detention system in the world, holding tens of thousands of border-crossers, asylum-seekers, undocumented immigrants and green card holders accused of certain crimes.
He also oversaw high-profile and controversial operations, including the largestin the agency's history at several Mississippi food processing plants and targeting migrant families with orders of deportation that yielded few arrests.
As the coronavirus became widespread in the U.S., Albence's agency announced in mid-March that ICE agentsfrom targeting and apprehending most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who don't pose a threat to the public during the pandemic. Since then, ICE said it has focused solely on arresting those who pose a public safety risk and immigrants convicted of certain crimes.
ICE has also had to contend withwithin its sprawling network of detention facilities, most of which are operated by private prison companies and counties. Nearly 4,000 immigrants have tested positive for coronavirus while detained by the agency. Three immigrants who contracted the virus have died while in ICE custody.
Despite the number of infections, Albence's team has strongly defended ICE's strategy to contain the coronavirus within its detention system. Henry Lucero, who leads the deportations and detention division,earlier this month that the agency had taken all steps necessary to protect its employees and detainees during the pandemic.
Albence was never nominated to become ICE's Senate confirmed chief. Like Albence, the current leaders of CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have been performing their roles on an acting basis.
Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the top two officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which oversees ICE, CBP and USCIS — have also not been nominated to be confirmed by the Senate for their current leadership positions.