BY JILL COLVIN AND ELLIOT SPAGAT, WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s pick to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken himself out of the running less than six months after he was nominated, saying Monday that he will retire this summer to focus more on family.
Thomas Homan, who was acting director since Trump took office, spearheaded a 40 percent surge in deportation arrests and established policies to make immigration arrests at courthouses and detain pregnant women. He has been one of the administration’s most outspoken and enthusiastic advocates of its crackdown on illegal immigration, drawing strong reactions across the political spectrum.
Trump scrapped the Obama administration’s policy of limiting deportations to people who pose a public safety threat, convicted criminals and those who have crossed the border recently, effectively making anyone in the country illegally vulnerable to apprehension. Homan relished the broad mandate.
“There’s no population off the table,” he said in December when announcing a huge increase in deportation arrests. “If you’re in this country illegally, we’re looking for you and we’re going to look to apprehend you.”
Like Trump, he repeatedly bashed California, its Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, and other so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that limit the extent to which local police and state prisons can cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Homan said any unwillingness to work closely with immigration agents at local jails would force his officers to have a larger presence in the community.
“California better hold on tight,” he told Fox News the day after California’s sanctuary state law took effect. “If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
Homan was guaranteed to face tough questions about his dramatic actions and hard-line views from Senate Democrats at his confirmation hearing, which was never scheduled. He also had an icy relationship with the National ICE Union, which represents the agency’s officers and was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential bid.
“The decision to leave federal service after more than 34 years is bittersweet, but my family has sacrificed a lot in order for me to serve and it’s time for me to focus on them,” Homan said in a statement.
Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees ICE, said Homan told her earlier this year that he planned to retire but agreed to her request that he stay to help with the transition. She called him a “patriot and a true public servant who has consistently put service before self.”
The administration has not named a replacement for Homan, whose 20,000 employees arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally, detain them and investigate a wide range of crimes, including money laundering, drug smuggling and antiquities fraud.
In a recent interview, Homan said he was nearing the end of his retirement party a week after Trump took office when then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called to ask that he consider staying as acting director. Homan said he had a lucrative job waiting in the private sector, and his wife and son worried about the pressures of the job. Kelly gave him a weekend to decide, and he accepted.
Homan, who was a relatively low-key but influential figure on immigration enforcement in the Obama administration, took almost immediately to Trump’s message.
“People think I enjoy this?” he said. “I’m a father. People don’t think this bothers me? I feel bad about the plight of these people. Don’t get me wrong, but I have a job to do. … We’ve shown that there’s a consequence to illegal activity, and the numbers (of border arrests) went down.”
Spagat reported from San Diego.
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(FILE – In this Dec. 5, 2017 file photo, acting director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan takes a question from a reporter at a Department of Homeland Security news conference in Washington. Homan, the acting director of the agency charged with combating illegal immigration, is stepping down, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday. Photo:AP-Andrew Harnik)