(WASHINGTON) — The Biden administration has selected the new head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sources confirmed to ABC News on Wednesday.
Patrick “P.J.” Lechleitner, a career ICE official, will become acting director of the agency after more than 20 years with the Department of Homeland Security.
Lechleitner’s predecessor as acting director, Tae Johnson, announced his retirement last month.
A founding member of DHS in the early 2000s, Lechleitner worked his way up through Homeland Security Investigations, the division of ICE responsible for combating human trafficking and smuggling.
“He is someone whose counsel I have sought, and whose advice and guidance I have trusted,” HSI Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown said in a statement to ABC News. “PJ gets it. He gets it at all levels. He has the ability to translate the day-to-day challenges in the field into actionable plans to address those challenges.”
DHS has led a series of operations in recent months targeting transnational narcotics smuggling with a particular focus on the ultra-deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Authorities seized nearly 10,000 pounds of fentanyl over a two-month period as part of the recent crackdown, according to DHS.
Lechleitner’s purview will be much broader than investigations at the top of a federal law enforcement agency with a high public profile but which has also been a lightning rod for controversy, particularly among migrants’ advocates.
In part because of polarization around the agency, the Senate hasn’t confirmed a permanent director since Barack Obama was president.
ICE detention came under close scrutiny in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Civil liberties groups like the ACLU regularly rang alarm bells about conditions while in custody and began taking legal action.
Although typically reserved for individuals who may attempt to evade authorities, ICE detention does not require the same criminal burdens of proof as required to criminally incarcerate U.S. citizens.
The agency has also been criticized for how it handles child migrants who are detained, among other issues.
Lechleitner’s predecessor, Johnson, testified before a House committee in 2021 that ICE’s work is broad and the agency is “committed to enforcing immigration laws humanely, effectively, with professionalism.”
“Every day, the over 20,000 dedicated, proud, professionals at ICE work to promote homeland security and public safety through the broad enforcement of over 400 federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration,” he said. “I am proud to serve beside them.”
Lechleitner’s new role is among the latest in leadership changes at the Homeland Security immigration agencies. U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz plans to retire Friday, multiple sources told ABC News.
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