Todd J. Gillman, Dallas News
President Donald Trump on Tuesday named immigration hardliner Tom Homan, who has served nearly 10 months as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to run ICE on a permanent basis.
Homan has run the agency since Obama appointee Sarah Saldaña — the former U.S. attorney in Dallas —stepped down when Trump took office in January. He has been a public face of the administration’s crackdowns on immigrants and border security, a tough-talking law enforcement careerist who is unapologetic about being “heartless” when it comes to deporting even the most sympathetic longtime U.S. residents.
“I get asked all the time, ‘Why do you arrest somebody that has been here for 10 years, for 15 years in the USA and has kids?’” he said a month ago at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “If we keep sending this message, ‘It’s OK to violate the laws of this country and … not be worried about enforcement,’ then we’re never going to solve the border crisis. … It’s never going to be solved as long as people think they get a free pass.”
The White House had two more days to name a permanent ICE director before a deadline that would have blocked Homan for exercising authority any longer in an acting capacity. The nomination is subject to Senate approval.
Trump’s “build that wall!” campaign rhetoric and warnings of “bad hombres” flowing across the southern border stood in sharp contrast to his predecessor’s approach. In Homan, who has spent his career in law enforcement, including stints in Dallas and San Antonio as an immigration enforcer, he found an ally.
Homan often recounts the investigation he oversaw when 19 immigrants were found dead in a milk trailer in Victoria. The airless trailer, piled with bodies, was abandoned at a truck stop on May 14, 2003. There were 55 survivors. The driver was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
It was one of the nation’s deadliest smuggling incidents, and Homan invokes it to illustrate the need for aggressive measures to halt human trafficking.
He has said repeatedly that when it comes to enforcement, “No one is off the table” — a far harsher approach than ICE took during the Obama era, when Saldaña, under the president’s direction, put a priority on finding and deporting immigrants who had committed crimes other than entering the country illegally.
In July, he floated the possibility of charging mayors and other local leaders with violating anti-smuggling laws if they don’t abandon “sanctuary city” practices that shield immigrants from federal enforcement efforts.
ICE oversees interior and workplace enforcement. At Heritage last month, Homan vowed to step up workplace enforcement by a magnitude of four or five, sending shudders through certain sectors.
“It is safer for everyone if we take custody of an alien in a controlled environment of another law enforcement agency as opposed to visiting an alien’s residence, place of work or other public area. Arresting a criminal in the safety, security and privacy of the jail is the right thing to do.”
Homan’s 33-year career in law enforcement includes stints as a New York City police officer and a Border Patrol Agent. He has worked as a special agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a now defunct agency whose functions were transferred to ICE and other elements of the new Department of Homeland Security in 2003, when he became assistant agent in charge of ICE’s Dallas office. He has been at headquarters in Washington since 2009.