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ICE head Tom Homan is retiring. But Trump’s immigration agenda marches on.

Homan championed ICE’s renewed aggression under Trump. But don’t expect the agency to soften after he leaves in June.

Tom Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), at a press conference. Homan announced Monday that he will retire in June.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is about to lose the lead spokesman for his immigration agenda: Tom Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Trump’s nominee to lead the agency permanently.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Homan is planning to retire from ICE in June; CNN’s Tal Kopan confirmed Homan’s planned retirement. In a public statement, Homan said he was retiring after 34 years in the federal government to spend more time with his family.

ICE is responsible for immigration enforcement within the interior of the US as well as special investigations involving trafficking and other issues. Presumably, the administration would also withdraw his nomination to head ICE permanently.

The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t yet confirmed the Wall Street Journal report, and there aren’t any public details about why Homan is choosing to retire while his nomination is still pending.

Homan has been planning his retirement from ICE as far back as January 2017. As Roque Planas wrote in a HuffPost profile of Homan, he had just cleaned out his desk and held a retirement party when he got a call from John Kelly (then the homeland security secretary) asking Homan, on behalf of Trump, to stay on as the agency’s acting head.

But once he was leading the agency, Homan appeared to be enthusiastic about the job and the president’s immigration agenda. He became a leading spokesman for the agency’s efforts to arrest more unauthorized immigrants — at one point famously telling Congress that “If you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable.”

He used his credibility as an experienced ICE official (and former Border Patrol agent) to draw a contrast between the top-down enforcement priorities set by ICE leaders — including Homan himself — under the Obama administration, and the “handcuffs off” approach favored by Trump, which gave field agents much more leeway to apprehend anyone they thought should be deported.

His performance appeared to be good enough for Trump to nominate him to serve as the permanent ICE director in November. So the suddenness of his reported retirement, less than six months later, is a little odd.

It’s also curious that Homan hasn’t had an actual confirmation hearing yet in the Senate, months after his nomination was submitted — the Senate never even put a hearing on the calendar. On Friday, a group of Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking them to hand over materials they said were relevant to Homan’s nomination. On Monday, the report of his retirement broke instead.

Don’t expect ICE to soften without Homan

Homan was involved in the development and implementation of Obama’s 2014 enforcement priorities, which directed ICE agents to focus on deporting immigrants with criminal records or who had only recently entered the US. In 2015, the Obama administration even gave him a Presidential Rank Award — the highest award available to a government official at his level — for his work.

Donald Trump, and the administration he’s built, have been dedicated from the beginning to taking the “handcuffs” off of ICE agents and restoring their power to arrest any unauthorized immigrant they come across — then deport them as efficiently as possible.

Homan served that agenda, too.

Trump signed an executive order reversing the Obama-administration enforcement priorities on his first week in office, before Homan was named the acting director of ICE. Other moves to increase the vulnerability of immigrants to deportation — kicking hundreds of thousands of immigrants out of Temporary Protected Status (TPS); the successful attempt to seal off the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program off from new applicants (and the attempt, thwarted for now, to prevent immigrants who already have DACA from renewing their deportation protections and work permits); etc. — have been done either without ICE or with ICE as just one of many agencies.

Homan’s tough-cop manner and his willingness to go on television to defend the president’s agenda made him the face of Trump’s immigration policy. But there’s not a lot of evidence that he personally did much to determine the direction the agency has taken under Trump. After all, the point of a policy of devolving authority away from top officials to field agents is that the top officials have less decision-making power.

It’s possible that whoever succeeds Homan as the head of ICE won’t have the same willingness to talk tough in public. But the policies that have been put in place are almost certainly going to continue without him, as long as Trump is in the White House.