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The guy now running ICE thinks detention is like "summer camp"

The Department of Homeland Security is still reeling from a major shake-up this week.

by Alex Lubben
Apr 12 2019, 4:07pm

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Still reeling from a major shake-up this week, the Department of Homeland Security tapped Matthew Albence — a man who once compared family detention facilities to “summer camps” — to lead ICE.

Albence, who was promoted in February of 2017 to ICE’s second-in-command, rose up through the Trump administration’s ranks at a clip that would have normally taken years. As an immigration hard-liner, he's been an ardent supporter of some of the Trump administration’s most aggressive immigration policies.

Ron Vitiello, the previous nominee to lead ICE, plans to leave the agency Friday after President Donald Trump dropped his nomination last week. It’s not yet clear whether the Trump administration will seek to formally nominate Albence to lead ICE or whether he will serve in an interim capacity.

The White House, meanwhile, continues to push more aggressive — and legally dubious — immigration policies, reportedly at the behest of far-right activist and senior policy aide Stephen Miller. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, also resigned last week, as did her number two, Claire Grady. Trump also kicked out the head of the Secret Service.

Albence, until recently, was very much a career official at ICE and working in the background, out of the public eye. But during a public hearing before Congress, he stepped into the limelight when he highlighted what he saw as the cushy conditions of ICE’s family residential centers [FRCs].

“With regards to the FRCs, I think the best way to describe them is to be more like a summer camp,” Albence said.

His comments contradict much of the reporting on the unsanitary, unsafe, and abusive conditions inside those “summer camps.” Families were reportedly drinking toilet water to keep from becoming dehydrated. And there have been widespread reports of sexual abuse inside the facilities.

Albence has even spoken out against the Flores Settlement, which limits the time the government can detain an undocumented minor to 20 days. He thinks kids should be allowed to be detained for longer than that.

“However, the [Flores Settlement agreement], as interpreted by court decisions, makes it operationally unfeasible for DHS and ICE to simultaneously enforce our immigration laws and maintain family unity,” Albence said before Congress.

The ouster of huge chunks of DHS leadership in the last week have even Republicans worried. But if anyone’s up to the task of trying to keep up with the Trump administration’s whims on immigration, it may be Albence.

"The joke was, 'Matt never met an undocumented immigrant that he wouldn’t deport,'" one unnamed former senior ICE official, who worked alongside Albence, told BuzzFeed News.

Cover image: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Executive Associate Director of Enforcement And Removal Operations Matthew Albence, testifies as the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the Trump administration's policies on immigration enforcement and family reunification efforts, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)