The Trump administration's top immigration enforcer said Monday that he will retire in June, avoiding what promised to be a rough Senate fight for confirmation as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Thomas Homan, who began his 34-year career as a Border Patrol agent in Campo, Calif., has been an aggressive advocate for President Trump's immigration crackdown, using ICE agents to arrest anyone in the country illegally and speaking out harshly against so-called sanctuary cities and other impediments.
His nomination had been held up in the Senate, where Democratic lawmakers expressed growing concern about his approach. Homan said virtually every immigrant living illegally in the United States was subject to removal, and arrests of such immigrants with no criminal convictions rose sharply on his watch.
Homan, 57, becomes the latest high-level Trump appointee to withdraw a contested nomination. Dr. Ronny Jackson, Trump's lightly vetted pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, dropped out last week amid allegations that he drank on the job and overprescribed medication.
Homan headed ICE removal operations under President Obama. He has served as deputy director of ICE under Trump and was nominated as director in November.
He previously sought to retire in January, in part because of family and health issues, but the White House convinced him to stay. The White House has not said who will be nominated to head the agency.
Homan announced his decision Monday as he was about to accept an award in New York from an association of federal law enforcement officers.
"It has been the honor of my life to lead the men and women of ICE for more than a year," Homan said in a statement, calling his decision "bittersweet." He added: "My family has sacrificed a lot in order for me to serve, and it's time for me to focus on them."
Under Obama, ICE made noncitizens with criminal records the top enforcement target for deportation. But longtime ICE agents felt unleashed under Trump, and Homan embraced the tough new approach with gusto. He said everyone in the country illegally could be a target for deportation, whether or not they committed another crime.
Under Homan, arrests jumped more than 40 % last year, and arrests of immigrants without criminal records doubled.
Homan vowed to be even more aggressive in 2018, including a return to workplace raids, and promised that his agents would give extra attention to pursuing people in "sanctuary cities" that resisted cooperation with his agency.
When Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a warning to residents ahead of a planned raid, Homan compared her to a "gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes into the neighborhood." Homan said more than 800 criminals were able to avoid capture, but there was little evidence to support the claim, and an agency spokesman resigned in protest.
This month, 18 leading Democratic senators wrote a letter criticizing the Trump administration for not sending requested documents to support Homan's nomination, and blasting Homan for his "inflammatory and inaccurate statements."
"We understand that the Trump administration may be concerned about Mr. Homan answering questions under oath about his leadership of ICE," they wrote.
Homan shot back at his critics, with particular scorn for those in California: "If people don't like it, people like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein can certainly change the law, they are legislators," Homan said in March.
Homan's record drew praise from Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He called the official "a tremendous partner in helping to steer ICE back to its core mission of immigration enforcement and public safety."