A lawsuit filed Thursday in Connecticut's U.S. District Court alleges the Trump administration's acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Matthew Albence, is illegally serving in that position and, therefore, enforcement changes enacted under his authority are unlawful.
Lawyers on behalf of Suffield, Conn., based-ASISTA Immigration Assistance say federal law requires the director of ICE be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It's been more than three years since the agency was led by a Senate-confirmed director.
Brianne Gorod is chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center, one of the groups representing ASISTA. She said that, based on time limits established in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the president has exhausted his legal authority to place temporary, acting directors at the helm of ICE.
"Matthew Albence was not allowed to be acting director of ICE after August 1, 2019, based on the explicit limits set out in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. But, not withstanding that, he continued purporting to be the acting director of ICE and he continued taking official actions under the authority of that office," Gorod said.
According to the reform act, the office of ICE director can be filled by an acting official for up to 210 days after a presidential nomination is either rejected, withdrawn or returned by the Senate. This 210-day extension may be applied twice before mandating a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader take the helm of the agency. The second extension period ended on August 1, 2019, while Albence continued to serve as an acting director, a position he holds today.
A spokesperson for ICE declined to comment on the suit.
The suit specifically challenges a revision announced by ICE on Aug. 2, 2019, which alters the way U visa applicants request protection from deportation. Some victims of crime who are in the U.S. without proper documentation and cooperate with law enforcement investigations are able to apply for legal status in the country through the U visa program. But advocates say the wait is often years long and applicants generally are not safe from removal proceedings during that time period.