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An ICE Official Who Said Detention Was "More Like Summer Camp" Will Now Lead The Agency

“It’s hard to imagine what’s tougher than what Nielsen and Vitiello were doing, but assuming there is such a thing, Matt is certainly up to the task," said a former senior ICE official.

Posted on April 11, 2019, at 5:38 p.m. ET

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The Trump administration has tapped Matthew Albence to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the sudden resignation of its former leader.

Albence, a career official and former ally of former ICE acting director Thomas Homan, has risen quickly under the administration and is seen as an official with the type of hardline approach that President Donald Trump may appreciate.

It’s unclear how long Albence, previously the agency's acting deputy director, will remain in the leadership role.

The shakeup at ICE comes during a particularly tumultuous period as the Trump administration makes several other changes at the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump told reporters last week that he pulled acting director Ron Vitiello’s nomination to lead ICE because he wanted to go in a “tougher” direction. Vitiello informed ICE employees that he will leave the role and resign Friday.

"Beginning tomorrow I will be out of the office, during which time Acting Deputy Director Matt Albence will be leading the agency," he wrote to ICE employees Thursday.

A former senior ICE official said of Albence: “He’s definitely enforcement minded and has long been working on making [deportation officers] more efficient and more effective at enforcing the immigration laws in the interior. It’s hard to imagine what’s tougher than what Nielsen and Vitiello were doing, but assuming there is such a thing, Matt is certainly up to the task.”

The former official said that Albence “will be very willing to follow through on implementation.”

The new acting leader first began his career at the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in the mid-’90s before moving to the Transportation Security Administration and then returning to ICE in a position overseeing operations and field training among other things. Albence has moved up the ranks at ICE since 2012, when he became a deputy assistant director.

Mothers and their children stand in line at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.
Charles Reed / US Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP, File

Mothers and their children stand in line at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.

As he rose under the Trump administration, he played a role in shaping policy.

Albence wrote a memo in February 2017 that ordered immigration officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants that they come across — a shift from the Obama administration.

“I think he is what the administration is looking for,” said Claude Arnold, a former special agent in charge at ICE. “They wanted an operator with immigration experience. He is the right pedigree and is a smart guy with a great work ethic. I think he’ll do a great job.”

Albence became better known after his appearance on Capitol Hill on July 31 during which he said that family detention centers were best described as "more like a summer camp," to the shock of some advocates and politicians.

"With regard to the FRCs," Albence said, referring to what ICE calls family residential centers, "the best way to describe them is more like a summer camp. These individuals have access to 24-7 food and water... There're basketball courts, exercise classes, soccer fields... In fact, many of these individuals, the first time they've seen a dentist is when they've come to one of our FRCs."

Since then, he has appeared regularly on television, including during the push to include more detention space funding during the last budget negotiations.

One former senior official who worked with Albence previously told BuzzFeed News, "The joke was, 'Matt never met an undocumented immigrant that he wouldn’t deport.' That’s his M.O. If you’re here impermissibly, it’s time for you to go. There’s no need for discretion. What the hell is that for?"


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