In a surprise move, Tae Johnson, the acting head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, will retire in the next few weeks.
According to a report by the Washington Examiner, Johnson – who has been serving in the interim role for more than two years – will leave his post shortly. ICE doesn’t have a permanent leader, and Johnson has served in that role since President Joe Biden assumed the White House in early 2021.
Johnson has served as a federal immigration officer for the last 28 years.
On Tuesday, Republican Representative Tony Gonzales of Texas confirmed the plans that Johnson has to retire.
After the Washington Examiner published a report on Johnson’s retirement, ICE released a statement that spoke to his employment status, but didn’t flat out deny he was going to retire.
Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for ICE, said in that statement:
“Rumors surrounding the retirement of Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson are just that. He will continue leading the men and women of this agency with the same integrity and commitment that he has demonstrated throughout his entire career.”
That’s not exactly a definitive denial that Johnson will be retiring, as he certainly could continue serving in this role for a few more weeks and then make the announcement official.
Until that happens, ICE hasn’t discussed at all that Johnson will be departing or who might follow him in the role. Patrick Lechleitner is the next in line in terms of the chain of command for the organization, so he could be a likely replacement.
ICE has had nine acting directors in a row now over the last five years.
Biden nominated Ed Gonzalez – the sheriff of Harris County, Texas – to serve as ICE’s permanent director in April of 2021, but the confirmation never got through the Senate. After reports regarding domestic abuse surfaced in July of 2022, Biden withdrew Gonzalez from consideration.
Since then, the president hasn’t put forth another nominee to serve in the permanent role.
ICE has been a federal agency under fire during the Biden administration. The surge of migrants at the southern border has happened because of Biden’s lax immigration policies, and ICE has been the agency forced to deal with it head-on.
At the same time, Congress has attempted to overhaul immigration and border security laws that ultimately affect the work that ICE does, and how the agency is able to do that work.
Under the Biden administration, the number of migrants who were deported fell off a cliff compared to the Trump administration. During fiscal year 2021, for instance, deportations and arrests of all illegal immigrants dropped more than 75% compared to the numbers that were seen during Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, when Biden was serving as vice president.
During the Biden administration, ICE has moved to not detail all illegal immigrants in facilities run by the federal government while court proceedings were going on.