The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced he is stepping down from the role, a year after he took up the job.
Matthew Albence, a 25-year veteran of law enforcement who also served as ICE deputy director, said Friday that he will retire and leave the agency within a month.
Albence’s departure comes as ICE is put under increasing scrutiny as protesters across the nation call for the agency to be defunded or abolished.
The move has also left ICE agents ‘fearful’ of who Trump will appoint in his place, saying Albence often acted as a buffer for pressure coming from the White House.
A source told the Washington Examiner: ‘Matt has been… such a defender. He’s not a political appointee. Matt’s a guy who has done the job.
‘Our fear is that they’re going to put a political appointee who’s never done the job and doesn’t know the difficulty we have in enforcing immigration law.’
In an official statement, Albence said: ‘This was an exceptionally hard decision to make, a decision prolonged due to the uncertainty of a global pandemic and the essential role ICE continues to play in our nation’s response.’
The pandemic has created challenges for ICE operations both in the field and in detention centers, where nearly 4,000 migrants have tested positive for coronavirus.
Trump has made immigration a major theme of his first four-year term in office and a central part of his 2020 campaign against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
He has implemented a number of sweeping immigration measures during the pandemic, suspending entry of certain foreign workers and green card applicants.
He has also allowed US authorities to rapidly deport migrants encountered at the country’s borders with Mexico and Canada.
ICE tactical police were part of recent deployment of federal officers sent to quell protests outside a courthouse in Portland, Oregon, an effort that drew criticism from Democratic officials in the state.
Oregon’s Democratic governor, Kate Brown, said on Wednesday that federal forces had agreed to withdraw from Portland, though U.S. officials said they would stay until conditions improved after weeks of clashes with protesters.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE’s parent agency, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about who would replace Albence.
Derek Benner, executive associate director for ICE’s homeland security investigations division, is the next highest ranking official.