Tony Pham, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the soon-to-be-ending Trump administration, is reportedly set to resign from the agency by the end of the year. If he feels better thinking it’s somehow his decision, sure, whatever, adiós. What’s for sure is that Pham was a complete disgrace during his handful of months in the unconfirmed acting position. But it’s probably why he got the job in the first place.
Under Pham’s watch, the out-of-control agency put up Nazi-style billboards depicting immigrants who hadn’t been convicted of anything. Installed in the swing state of Pennsylvania, it was a propaganda campaign with the clear purpose to aid impeached president Donald Trump’s reelection. Even if it didn’t work in the end, its political goal was undeniable. But Pham also exploited his office in other ways.
In a complaint to Office of Special Counsel and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general this past October, independent federal watchdog American Oversight noted Pham was among the top DHS officials behaving as a taxpayer-funded Trump super PAC and shamelessly holding supposedly official events “in states that are closely contested in the presidential election.”
In response to American Oversight, the chief of Office of Special Counsel’s Hatch Act unit has agreed to open an investigation.
And we haven’t even touched on the health disaster partly under Pham’s watch. BuzzFeed News reports that Pham “led an agency that struggled to contain COVID-19 outbreaks within detention centers holding immigrants,” but I would argue ICE knew exactly what it was doing.
Federal immigration officials ignored the advocation of experts and refused to release detained people from immigration prison camps, a move that eventually added nearly 250,000 cases to the national count, a report from Detention Watch Network has found. “If the cases linked to ICE were the reported caseload of a country, that country would have ranked 16th in the world by total cases, outranking Germany, France, and Canada.
“ICE has even been blamed for spreading the virus internationally by deporting people who were detained in facilities with active COVID-19 cases without testing them,” DWN continued. “People deported to countries including India, Haiti, Guatemala, and El Salvador tested positive shortly after their deportations.”
The end of the 2020 fiscal year amid Pham’s tenure also marked ICE’s deadliest year since 2005. Among deaths was 61-year-old Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez, who was ordered released from prison by a federal judge due to his underlying medical conditions, only to then be snatched up by ICE. He died from COVID-19 on Sept. 21. Even as the virus continues to go through facilities like a fire, the agency refuses to release even children from their jails.
“Leading a law enforcement agency with such a committed workforce has been the honor of a lifetime,” BuzzFeed News reports Pham said in a statement. “I have gotten to meet with many extraordinary employees across the United States. I will continue to be that tireless advocate for the hard working men and women at ICE. However, at the end of the year, I will be returning home to Richmond, VA to be closer to my family.” So many people under his watch are probably also wishing for the same opportunity.