by Kaylee Greenlee
Tony Pham is focused on changing the narrative of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by highlighting the work agents do every day, he told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an exclusive interview.
Closing his third full week as the senior official performing the duties of the director of ICE, Pham told the DCNF that he plans to focus on addressing the public misconception of the agency and its
employees by promoting discussion around the “remarkable work that the men and women of ICE do every day.”
Pham intends to draw on his previous experiences as a front-line prosecutor, detention director, and criminal investigator to bring something different to the agency, he told the DCNF.
“My vision for this organization is to highlight the hardworking men and women while I’m here, to be able to meet every single individual to address some of the issues moving forward with a thoughtful process based upon my legal background, and I think that’s going to be what is different, and it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different,” Pham said.
ICE’s mission is to protect America from illegal immigration and cross-border crimes that threaten national security and public safety, Pham told the DCNF. ICE agents and officers enforce over 400 federal statues focused on smart immigration, terrorism prevention, and stopping the illegal flow of goods and people across America’s borders, according to Pham.
“It’s those individuals that we meet in our everyday travels across the United States who deserve an acting director who will tell their story and recognize their value and recognize their commitment to our country, and that’s the narrative that I want to put out there for the public to see,” Pham told the DCNF.
“That these are committed individuals that come to work every day, they’re anonymous, you don’t know them, but their charge is to make our lives better,” Pham added.
Pham emphasized the work done by the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) group, who identify and arrest illegal immigrants. In the 2019 fiscal year, around 86% of the individuals that ERO arrested had prior criminal records or arrests, according to Pham.
“That plays directly into our ability to protect our communities by removing those individuals that pose a public safety risk to our communities,” Pham told the DCNF. “These are individuals that we focus on that have committed crimes, they do some time, they come back out and they have an opportunity to commit crime again.”
ICE has faced criticism from watchdogs.
The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security investigated concerns about how detainees were treated in four ICE facilities in June 2019 and found “nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues, according to an IG report released in June 2019.
Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in a joint June 2019 statement called ICE and Customs Protection “radicalized criminal agencies” that violate human rights.
“The Trump administration would rather criminalize immigrants, separate families, and detain refugees rather than practice empathy and compassion,” the statement said. “We must abolish ICE.”
Pham told the DCNF: “The criticism is unwarranted.”
“We approach individuals we take into our custody with the utmost compassion and professionalism, and we work towards providing individuals a safe environment while they’re in detention as their case works through the immigration courts,” he added.
Pham spent 10 years working in two different detention facilities where he developed his career and learned to treat “individuals in our detention facilities with compassion and professionalism,” he told the DCNF.
As a front-line prosecutor, Pham ran grand juries and learned the inner workings of the court system, he told the DCNF. He added that his previous experience investigating gang-related incidents gives him a leg-up when working with Homeland Security Investigations agents because he can “walk right in and have those conversations” with a fluent understanding of the information.
“I’m humble, I’m grateful and I’m blessed to be in the position where I am now because I enjoy people, I just love talking to people and I enjoy meeting people, more so enjoy meeting the employees who come to work every day and do their job to protect this country,” Pham told the DCNF. “I’m going to try to do the best job I can while I have the opportunity to do it.”
Pham said he is not focused on whether he will be formally nominated or confirmed to the director position.
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