Acting US Immigration and Customs Director Tony Pham, who lost his position as the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney in 2015, is stepping down from his post as federal government in late December.
“I am grateful to the Trump administration for doing me the highest honor of my career as principal legal advisor and chief officer for serving as director of the United States Immigration and Customs,” he said in a statement. “Running a law enforcement agency with such a dedicated workforce has been an honor of a lifetime. I have met many exceptional people in the United States. I will continue to be that tireless advocate for the hard working men and women at ICE. “
Pham wrote that he would resign to return to the Richmond area and be with his family.
His brief tenure at ICE was controversial as the office and Pham himself came under fire from opponents who cited efforts such as billboards in several areas ahead of the November presidential election as politically motivated. The billboards featured images of immigration violators arrested or convicted of crimes and released in the United States.
At the time, Pham said that so-called “shelters” (places that do not partner with ICE by not sharing information about immigration violations) in this way raise “significant public safety concerns”.
Pham has served as ICE’s principal legal advisor since January before being named acting director on August 25.
He has often told the story of how his family fled Vietnam at the age of two in 1975, just eleven days before the country’s capital came under communist control. Critics have suggested that the Trump administration raised Pham in part because of his background.
Officials from SEARC, a national civil rights group campaigning for Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese Americans, said in a statement Friday that they were “encouraged to hear of Tony Pham’s upcoming resignation as director of ICE. During his brief tenure, Pham expanded the Trump administration’s gruesome attacks on our communities and used his identity as a Vietnamese refugee as political cover. “
However, in an interview with the Chesterfield Observer in September, Pham said he would not advocate any racist action at the agency.
“I understand when families talk about the horrors of fleeing oppression,” he told the newspaper. “Any decision made to apply the rule of law is made through deliberate, thoughtful processes, understanding that this is how we apply the law. Is it fair Is it just and just? ‘”
He also told the observer that ICE “is not an organization aimed at intolerance or racism. It can’t be not with me at the helm. “