SAN ANTONIO ― Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, doubled down Wednesday on his controversial comments from last year that all undocumented immigrants should be worried about getting arrested and deported under the Trump administration.
“I’ll never back down on those words,” Homan said at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio, a conference that connects law enforcement with companies looking to win contracts. “If you violate the laws of this country, if you enter illegally ― which is a crime ― it’s not going to be OK anymore.”
A career immigration enforcement official who started as a Border Patrol agent more than three decades ago, Homan loudly championed some of President Donald Trump’s most contentious immigration positions on Wednesday.
That included the White House’s opposition to standalone legislation to grant legal status to young undocumented immigrants who have benefited from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama administration program that Trump canceled.
“If we get a clean DACA bill, shame on all of us,” Homan said.
Immigrant rights groups have pressured Congress to pass a bill that would address the plight of these Dreamers, after Trump threw their tenuous legal status into jeopardy last year. But the White House has insisted that any legislation to deal with the cancellation of DACA should also include billions of dollars for Trump’s proposed border wall expansion, along with cuts to legal immigration. The impasse played a key role in the brief shutdown of the federal government earlier this month.
Addressing DACA without also cracking down further on immigration would only spur more unauthorized immigration, Homan said ― even as he acknowledged that illegal crossings had plummeted to their lowest levels in four decades.
“I 100 percent support the wall,” Homan added.
He spent much of his speech lashing out at so-called “sanctuary” cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, often by declining to hold some undocumented immigrants accused of lesser state crimes until federal authorities can pick them up. Homan said it irritated him that politicians who have “never carried a badge and a gun” can limit his agents’ ability to go into local jails to make arrests.
Working through the jails, he said, expedites the deportation process and makes it safer for ICE agents, because they don’t have to go knocking on people’s doors. Restricting ICE’s access to local jails, he said, will only drive his agents to target undocumented immigrants in their neighborhoods, which will result in more unauthorized immigrants without criminal records being picked up.
ICE under Homan’s watch has received much criticism from immigrant rights groups and some Democratic politicians for an uptick in arrests of unauthorized immigrants without criminal convictions. Those critics deride the Trump administration’s tactics as unfocused, saying they breed fear in immigrant communities. Some local law enforcement officials, including some of the police chiefs and sheriffs for the largest cities and counties in Texas, have also warned that indiscriminate deportation efforts make immigrants distrustful of local cops.
Less than a week after Trump took office, his administration tossed out Obama-era guidelines that focused deportation efforts on recent border-crossers, people with serious criminal histories and those who had prior deportations on their records.
But according to Homan, the only way to resolve the country’s contentious immigration problems is by cracking down on undocumented immigrants more uniformly. And he characterized critics ― whether local officials, journalists or “people on on the left” ― as unworthy of contradicting him on policy, unless they’ve worked in law enforcement.
“When they’ve seen what we’ve seen, then they can have an opinion,” Homan said, addressing himself to the immigration agents and officials in the room. “Until then, we’re going to enforce the law without apology. And I’m not going to stop talking.”