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Tony Pham, interim director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to step down

The acting director has been criticized for efforts such as erecting billboards with photos of immigration violators.

Tony Pham will be stepping down as the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the end of the year.

Less than five months into his position, Pham says he will be resigning as the head of the agency to be with his family. A former Vietnamese refugee, he said last week he was "grateful for the Trump administration" to have had his position.

Image: Tony Pham
Tony Pham.ICE

"Leading a law enforcement agency with such a committed workforce has been the honor of a lifetime," Pham said in a statement. "I will continue to be that tireless advocate for the hard working men and women at ICE. However, at the end of the year, I will be returning home to Richmond, VA to be closer to my family."

Pham was appointed by President Donald Trump in August to succeed the retiring Matt Albence.

During his brief tenure as ICE's top official, some of his efforts were met with criticism. For example, in October he oversaw an effort in Pennsylvania to install controversial billboards, depicting the faces of immigrant violators, along the highways of the key swing state in the month leading up to the presidential elections.

“Too often sanctuary policies limiting cooperation with ICE result in significant public safety concerns,” Pham said in an October news release introducing the plan. “ICE will continue to enforce immigration laws set forth by Congress through the efforts of the men and women of ICE to remove criminal aliens and making our communities safer.”

The Human rights watchdog Amnesty International believes the billboards were used for propaganda.

“Once again, ICE relies on fear-mongering to achieve a discriminatory policy agenda fueled by tactics of misinformation and disinformation," the organization said in a statement in October."Instead of focusing on doing its job lawfully, ICE uses inflammatory language and images on billboards as a red herring. ICE has chosen to target immigrants to further a political agenda."

Pham was two years old when his family fled Saigon to the U.S. in 1975, days before South Vietnam fell under Communist control. Ittook his family a decade to become citizens. He says they followed the “lawful path to citizenship," in an email to ICE attorneys earlier this year.

When he was appointed by the Trump administration to lead the agency, anger and concern were expressed from Asian American organizations. His actions while in power have sparked scrutiny from nonprofits like OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates.

"It is unfortunate to see that Tony Pham has been unable to answer to the Vietnamese American and AAPI community," the nonprofit's CEO Ken Lee shared with NBC Asian America. "We expect that representatives from our community in positions of power would take special care to consider our community's needs. We hope that Pham's successor will take action to address COVID-19 problems in detention centers and end the deportation of immigrant Americans."

The California-based organization VietRISE said it believed he turned his back on refugee communities.

“Five months ago, we said it was time to bring human rights home. Instead Tony Pham chose to promote Trump’s apartheid worldview, and turned his back on refugee communities, here and abroad," the organization shared in a public statement. "Tony Pham will not easily wash off the stain of abuse and corruption that he supervised and oversaw."

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