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Democrats demand Homeland Security hand over documents on immigration chief

Thomas Homan, the acting director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks on Dec. 5, as Ronald Vitiello, the acting deputy commissioner, looks on.
Thomas Homan, the acting director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks on Dec. 5, as Ronald Vitiello, the acting deputy commissioner, looks on. (Andrew Harnik/AP/file)

Thomas Homan, President Trump’s pick to permanently lead the nation’s immigration enforcement agency, has been in limbo since his nomination last November — and Democratic senators want to know why. 

In a letter released Friday, nearly 20 Senate Democrats said they want the Department of Homeland Security to hand over documents shedding more light on Homan and his formal nomination to become the next director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The nomination of Homan, who has been leading the immigration agency in an acting capacity since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, has stalled since it was officially submitted to the Senate on Nov. 14, 2017, with no confirmation hearing nor movement in the chamber.

Homan has projected a hard-line approach to immigration enforcement, including his declaration last year that immigrants “should be afraid” under the Trump administration if they entered the United States illegally. 

The White House has said they are focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who "pose a threat to this country." (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Democratic senators said DHS needs to give more information to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee before the nomination can proceed, but the department has yet to do so. The fact that it took Trump nearly 10 months to officially nominate an ICE director was also “striking,” Democrats wrote, “given the priority this Administration claims to place on immigration enforcement.”

“We understand that the Trump Administration may be concerned about Mr. Homan answering questions under oath about his leadership of ICE, as well as the possibility that Mr. Homan’s nomination could be defeated in the Senate,” the Democrats wrote in the letter. “However, the Senate is an independent branch of government and has a responsibility under the Constitution to provide its advice and consent on this nomination. 

“Therefore, we again urge you to immediately provide all documents requested by HSGAC so that the Senate can consider Mr. Homan’s nomination as soon as possible,” the letter stated.

The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat on the committee, and signed by 17 other senators. They also questioned whether Homan’s acting appointment as the ICE head violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, arguing that it subsequently “raises serious questions about the legality of Mr. Homan’s actions as the acting head of ICE.”

“The absence of a Senate-confirmed head of ICE for more than a year hinders Congressional oversight and the efficient operation of the agency and is troubling in any circumstance,” the Democrats wrote. “Moreover, it is completely unacceptable at a time when the Trump Administration is making radical — and in some cases possibly illegal — changes in immigration enforcement policies and practices.”

DHS did not directly address the Democratic request for documents in a response, but said Homan’s acting duties are consistent with the vacancies law.

“Due in part to Tom’s 34 years of experience as a law enforcement officer, passion and leadership, ICE officers and agents are doing their jobs with the full support of an administration for the first time in years,” DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton said. “Senate Democrats should be sending Tom Homan a thank-you letter for all that he and ICE have done to protect the safety of our communities across the country.”