Hours later, the Republican National Committee pointed reporters to the fact that Palij, a former Nazi SS labor camp guard in German-occupied Poland, had settled in the New York congressional district that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is seeking to represent.
Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic socialist who is heavily favored to be elected to Congress in November, has described ICE as “the Gestapo.”
“Now that ICE has literally removed a Nazi from her backyard, where does Ocasio-Cortez stand?” the RNC asked in a statement.
The statement also took aim at other Democrats who have called for abolishing ICE, an agency that came under new scrutiny in the wake of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that led to family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In reality, ICE had little to do with the timing of Palij’s removal. ICE personnel are responsible for deporting people to other countries, but the decision to do so comes largely from the U.S. courts and the receiving countries.
Palij was first ordered to be removed from the country in 2004, but the case languished for years because no country would take him. He was the last known Nazi war-crime suspect in the United States.
ICE agents were seen wheeling Palij in a wheelchair from his home in Queens on their way to the airport, where ICE arranged a medical flight.
Palij was born in a part of Poland that is now in Ukraine. He came to the United States in 1949 and became a U.S. citizen in 1957.
In a call with reporters, Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said the U.S. was eventually able to convince Germany to accept Palij.
“They saw this as a moral obligation that they had, not so much a legal obligation,” said Grenell, noting that Palij had worked as a guard for the German government.
President Trump, Grenell said, “made it very clear that he wanted this individual out of the U.S.”
Grenell said he raised the matter in every meeting with German officials.
“We brought it up very regularly and as loudly as we could,” Grenell said. “There just seemed to be a new energy with the new government here in Germany, and we’re very thankful for their help.”
Justice Department officials said Tuesday that Palij was the 68th person kicked out of the country for being a Nazi. He was moved to a nursing home upon arrival in the city of Düsseldorf, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported.
Palij admitted to Justice Department officials in 2001 that he had trained at the SS training camp in Trawniki, in Nazi-occupied Poland, in the spring of 1943.
Later that year, roughly 6,000 Jewish men, women and children held captive at Trawniki were shot to death — one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust. Only two women are known to have survived. Justice Department officials said that by helping prevent the prisoners’ escape during his time at Trawniki, Palij played “an indispensable role” in the killings that came later.
Eli Rosenbaum, who has worked for decades at the Justice Department hunting ex-Nazis, called Palij’s deportation “a landmark victory in the U.S. government’s decades-long quest to achieve a measure of justice and accountability for the victims of Nazi inhumanity.”
Palij was flown by an air ambulance flight Monday night from Teterboro, N.J., landing in Düsseldorf on Tuesday morning, U.S. officials said.
Among the Trump administration officials who played up ICE’s role in removing Palij was Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who wrote on Twitter that “past administrations failed to deport him.”
“Today, @realDonaldTrump got the job done! ICE has removed this despicable Nazi from our great country,” the president’s press secretary wrote in a tweet that included a link to new coverage of the action.
The Department of Homeland Security also pointed to news coverage in a separate tweet, adding: “The dedicated men and women of @ICEgov continue to work on behalf of the American people.”
The announcement of Palij’s removal came a day after a White House event at which Trump called a crowd of 150 officers and agents of ICE and Customs and Border Protection “great patriots” who have sought to protect the nation against crimes by undocumented immigrants.
The president also denounced Democrats who have called for the abolition of ICE over concerns that the agency has acted recklessly and cruelly in its efforts to round up and deport people living here illegally.
“For you having to be demeaned by people who have no idea what strength is, is really very sad,” Trump said. “They have no courage; they have no guts. They just have big, loud mouths. We don’t want to put up with that. I just want you to know you are loved and respected.”
Ocasio-Cortez responded to her critics Tuesday morning with a tweet, saying her call to abolish ICE “means not having an agency that incarcerates children and sexually assaults women with impunity.”
“It does not mean abolish deportation,” she wrote. “Also, I have no problem saying white supremacy has no place in this country. It’s the GOP that struggles to say that.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was directed at Katie Pavlich, the editor of Townhall, a conservative website, who had pointed out on Twitter that ICE had deported “an actual Nazi” from the district Ocasio-Cortez is seeking to represent.
While House counsel Kellyanne Conway was among those who retweeted Pavlich’s tweet, giving it more exposure.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, whom Ocasio-Cortez defeated in the Democratic primary in June, released a statement saying he had been urging the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for years to deport Palij, who had lived in Jackson Heights since 2001.
“I appreciate the German government’s willingness to accept his deportation,” Crowley said. “This process dragged on for far too long, but today, our Jewish neighbors, and all proud Americans, can rest assured that our nation took a stand against hate.”
While Democrats expressed exasperation over the Republican focus on ICE, they also sought to position themselves as firmly against the presence of Nazis in the United States.
“Nazi prison guards have no place in the USA,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet. “We must stand firmly against hate, anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms. Good riddance to this war criminal.”
Seung Min Kim and David Nakamura contributed to this report.