The acting leader of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement abruptly resigned on Wednesday, just two weeks into the job after the agency’s previous director also stepped down unexpectedly in December, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The departure of Jonathan Fahey is the latest in a long line of resignations at ICE during the Trump administration. The agency, which has come under mounting public scrutiny for controversial policies and operations throughout Trump’s term, has now seen six leaders come and go since 2017.
None of the directors of the agency during Trump’s term were ever confirmed in the US Senate.
At the same time, Fahey’s resignation is symbolic of a Department of Homeland Security that has been under constant upheaval since President Donald Trump took office. On Monday, Chad Wolf stepped down as acting secretary of DHS, which due to a high rate of turnover, continues to have acting leaders in key positions.
ICE employees were notified of Fahey’s resignation in an email late Wednesday. No reason for the resignation given. His deputy, Tae Johnson, will now serve as acting director.
"We haven’t been bothering to learn the names of the political appointees for months now, anticipating that they will all be short-term," said one ICE official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Yet somehow the barrage of agency rule-making and then injunctions by the courts continue. The revolving door of figureheads doesn’t appear to have impeded those actually implementing the changes much."
It’s unclear whether Fahey’s resignation is tied to the administration’s reaction to the violent mob that took over the US Capitol last week. The resignation comes as DHS prepares for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week and as officials stand on guard for any further threat of violence. In his final significant move as acting DHS secretary, Wolf moved up the National Special Security Event operations for the inauguration from Jan. 19 to Jan. 13.
ICE has faced a torrent of criticism from advocates and politicians for its aggressive policies during the Trump administration. That included ICE leaders advocating publicly for city leaders in sanctuary cities to be charged with crimes, and the agency planning massive worksite raids, along with operations targeting undocumented immigrant families.
When some mayors and governors refused to increase cooperation with ICE, the agency paid for billboards with photographs of “wanted” immigrants in the same areas. An executive order signed by Trump also made it so nearly every undocumented immigrant became a priority for arrest. Not long after, ICE prosecutors were restricted from granting reprieves for certain immigrants facing deportation and ordered to review and potentially reopen previously closed cases, which was first revealed by BuzzFeed News through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Soon, the proportion of immigrants with no prior criminal convictions who were being arrested and placed into deportation proceedings began to shoot up. According to a Pew Research Center poll last year, ICE had the lowest favorability rating of the 10 federal agencies it asked about.
Fahey took over the acting leader role on Dec. 31 after his predecessor, Tony Pham, resigned. Fahey was previously the lead ICE attorney and had joined the department in an advisory role in March. Before DHS, he was a criminal prosecutor.
In introducing Fahey to staff on Dec. 31, Wolf said in an email that he was confident ICE’s new leader “will serve ICE with the same level of commitment and professionalism displayed during his distinguished career as a criminal prosecutor.”
As of Jan. 13, both men had resigned from their leadership positions.
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