WASHINGTON – Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas D. Homan today defended his agency while fielding criticism for the recent arrest of a 19-year-old illegal immigrant in New York on the morning of his high school prom.
According to news reports, Diego Ismael Puma Macancela and his mother fled Ecuador three years ago to escape the threat of gang violence. ICE detained the mother on Wednesday and arrested the son on Thursday, days before he was set to graduate from Ossining High School in Westchester County. An immigration judge had ordered Macancela’s removal in November.
“Americans expect us to foster compliance with the law, and to do that we’ve got to have a robust and diversified enforcement,” Homan told Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who grilled the director during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the president’s fiscal 2018 budget. “There should be no one that violates the law, and this young gentleman, by entering the country illegally, committed a crime.”
Lowey asked if ICE has any consideration for avoiding arrests in the vicinity of sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, churches and courthouses. She also expressed frustration at the agency’s arrest of someone she described as a “law-abiding” individual, who is not a danger to the community.
“If you have a student who’s walking to school, is a block away, you know that student is going to that school,” she said. “You know it’s the day of his prom. You know he’s graduating in a couple of weeks.”
Homan countered that ICE was unaware that the teen was set to graduate from high school or of his prom date, while noting that Macancela is not a law-abiding resident. He added that his agency’s job is to enforce the law, not play favorites.
“This is a country of laws. We need to stand by the laws,” he said. “He should be looking over his shoulder, if he’s in this country in violation of law and has been ordered removed.”
Two weeks into his presidency, Trump signed a slate of executive orders aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. The president’s budget for fiscal 2018 calls for $7.6 billion in discretionary funding for ICE, a $1.2 billion increase from the FY 2017 enacted budget. Homan said the agency needs all the resources it can get in order to implement Trump’s new policies, as the new directives remove exemptions for certain classes of removable aliens and have increased his department’s workload.
Under the Obama administration, about 345,000, or 65 percent, of the fugitive alien population were not subject to arrest or removal, Homan said. ICE arrests are up 38 percent since the same time period in 2016, according to Homan’s testimony.
The fiscal 2018 budget includes $4.9 billion to increase detention capacity and support an average daily population of about 50,000. Enforcement and Removal Operations since May has removed 144,353 aliens, 54 percent of which had criminal convictions, sending them back to 176 countries.
ICE estimates it will need 850 additional deportation officers to handle its increased workload. The budget also includes a $129 million increase for transportation costs associated with detention and $1 million to expand the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. The program established a new fund for victims of crimes committed by illegal aliens. Homan said the increases in the president’s budget are “badly needed.”
“Aliens who illegally enter the United States, or even those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas, have violated our nation’s laws and can pose a threat to national security and public safety,” he said in his prepared remarks.