Who Is ICE’s Newest Chief of Staff, and Will He Promote the Agency’s Mission?

Or will he follow his fellow Biden appointees in abolishing ICE from within?

By Jon Feere on November 28, 2023

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The Biden administration has appointed a new chief of staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Michael D. Lumpkin, who has more than 20 years of active duty military service as a U.S. Navy SEAL, where he served in various leadership positions. His appointment means ICE is now led by two officials with a Navy background, as the agency’s de facto director, Patrick J. Lechleitner, also served as a Navy signals intelligence specialist.

Lumpkin replaces Deborah Fleischaker, who previously worked in the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) office in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The question is whether Lumpkin will be a champion of ICE’s mission — unlike the Biden appointees who came before him — and work to put a stop to the ongoing release of countless criminal aliens into our communities. He has no immigration background, but he presumably understands the importance of national security and will hopefully take issue with the threats now under his watch.

When I worked in ICE’s Office of the Director, I worked to raise standards, create transparency, and focus the agency on threats that were being ignored, such as the mass fraud in the foreign student program. My colleagues and I worked to rebuild the agency after years of degradation under the Obama administration. It was clear to us that our predecessors weren’t trying to leave the agency in a better condition than they found it.

Lumpkin joins the agency amid ongoing destruction inflicted by the Biden administration. How many ICE officers will retire under his watch? What effort will he make, if any, to build the agency up? How will he make it more effective and more efficient in carrying out arrests and removals? Lumpkin will soon learn that his fellow political appointees are actively working to make ICE less effective and less efficient and that they’re getting quick results. He’ll also soon realize that without a quick change of course, he will be directly responsible for endangering the lives of countless Americans across the nation.
Why Was Lumpkin Appointed to ICE? Lumpkin has no immigration background, no policy experience related to immigration, and would seem to be an odd political appointment. It may be that Biden administration officials have quietly concluded that the open-border activists they’ve previously appointed to run the nation’s immigration system have created a horrific national security threat and one that threatens President Biden’s re-election. While the administration would not admit to these concerns publicly, Lumpkin’s background suggests national security and public messaging are the key issues that led to Lumpkin’s appointment.

Lumpkin was the assistant secretary of Defense for special operations / low-intensity conflict and describes himself as part of the “the special operations force (SOF) community”. He has advised the secretary of Defense “on special operations, counterterrorism, and counter threat finance activities and capabilities”. In 2015 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Lumpkin explained that between the SOF and conventional forces, the United States is able to “execute missions across the full-spectrum of combat and non-combat related activities” and that “beyond major contingencies, SOF remain the force of choice for those security force assistance missions in non-permissive and politically-sensitive areas, and missions where the host nation demands a small footprint”.
Though he hasn’t testified before Congress on immigration matters, Lumpkin noted in that 2015 hearing that “there exists a nexus between criminal enterprises and terrorist activities”. He explained:

More and more, we are seeing the convergence between criminal networks that facilitate the movement of people, weapons, drugs, and funding within conflict zones and violent extremists who take advantage of those channels as well.
Lumpkin would seem to understand that the expansive criminal activity occurring across our nation’s borders, at worksites, and in the foreign student program, for example, are creating serious threats that must he must address in his new role.
Lumpkin also has a background in “anti-propaganda” management, from his experience as the special envoy and coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, where he worked to “counter extremism online in real time”, having been appointed by President Obama in 2016. In this role, he led “efforts to coordinate, integrate, and synchronize Government-wide communications activities directed at foreign audiences abroad for the purpose of countering violent extremism and terrorism”.

His focus was members of ISIS and people who “may be vulnerable to recruitment” and he has background in use of social media, as he explains here:
Using Facebook ads, I can go within Facebook, I can go grab an audience, I can pick Country X, I need age group 13 to 34, I need people who have liked — whether it’s Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi or any other set — I can shoot and hit them directly with messaging.
Perhaps Lumpkin has been instructed to use his experience and focus on getting other countries to stop encouraging illegal immigration to the United States. Perhaps he’s been instructed to develop a messaging campaign aimed at foreigners considering entering the United States illegally. In the past, DHS has made an effort to discourage illegal immigration through messaging campaigns in foreign countries. Lumpkin’s explanation of how his messaging efforts on terrorism worked would seem to be adaptable:
We have a wide range of partners. We have nation-states standing up messaging centers, working with the Global Engagement Center. We’re working with them to make sure that they have the technical skills to do effective messaging. We’re working with non-governmental organizations ... who work with these different audiences of susceptible populations.
In a recent podcast, Lumpkin spoke of how he can influence behavior and decision-making of individuals through messaging:
There’s all kinds of things you can do with a message to influence behavior, both positively and negatively, if you understand the audience and you understand the tools that are in front of you.
He explained further how broadly focused campaigns can be less effective than targeted social media campaigns:

The way government largely does things, they do things on scale, they think about, “let’s do some information operations, let’s drop fliers from an airplane, or let’s put something on TV,” so you end up with this big message trying to hit a bunch of people in a generic kind of way, hoping that it lands on those one or two or three people that are potential recruits. Historically that’s the way it’s happened. With social media, what it is today, I can buy audiences.

It's interesting to contemplate how Lumpkin views the efforts by the Biden administration to discourage illegal immigration through social media — efforts that are clearly not working as the U.S. border continues to see explosive, record-breaking levels of illegal immigration from all over the world, including from countries that are hotbeds of extremism. Take, for example, the frequent social media posts from ICE like this one:

In his new role, Lumpkin will have to consider the effect of law enforcement — actual arrests and removals — as a means of changing behavior. Social media posts have little effect when the U.S. government rewards people who ignore the messaging. In the immigration context, the federal government is abusing parole, ICE’s legal division is cancelling thousands of pending immigration cases against deportable illegal aliens, DHS is very liberally granting entry to aliens with illegitimate asylum claims, work permits are being handed out like candy, and arrests and removals have gone down so dramatically over the past few years that foreign nationals have little reason to believe they’ll ever be held accountable for violating our nation’s immigration laws. No amount of social media posts can overcome this type of open-border messaging.

Lumpkin will have to contrast what’s happening under the Biden administration with the type of messaging that occurred under the Trump administration, which was so effective that even the generally open-border media helped send the right message. Take this report from the New York Times in the summer of 2017:
CHOLOMA, Honduras — His bags were packed, and the smuggler was ready. If all went well, Eswin Josué Fuentes figured he and his 10-year-old daughter would slip into the United States within days.

Then, the night before he planned to leave, he had a phone conversation with a Honduran friend living illegally in New York. Under President Trump, the friend warned, the United States was no longer a place for undocumented migrants.
Shaken, Mr. Fuentes abruptly ditched his plans.
From February through May, the number of undocumented immigrants stopped or caught along the southwest border of the United States fell 60 percent from the same period last year, according to United States Customs and Border Protection — evidence that far fewer migrants are heading north, officials on both sides of the border say.
[Illegal aliens] in the United States ... have sent a warning back to relatives and friends in their homelands: Don’t come.
The message is loud and clear here in Honduras. Manuel de Jesús Ríos Reyes, 55, stood in the unforgiving sun outside a reception center for deportees from the United States. His wife, who tried to cross the American border illegally in March, was on an incoming flight.
Mindful of the warnings from the United States, Mr. Ríos had urged her not to go. “She didn’t pay attention,” he recalled. “Now she’s here. Thank God, she’s alive.”
If his wife talks about trying to cross again, he said, he will redouble his pleas. “Ah, my love,” he planned to tell her. “Stay here.”

Many in the Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — appear to be doing just that.
Migrant smugglers in Honduras say their business has dried up since Mr. Trump took office. Fewer buses have been leaving the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula bound for the border with Guatemala, the usual route for Honduran migrants heading overland to the United States. In hotels and shelters along the migrant trail, once-occupied beds go empty night after night.

Marcos, a migrant smuggler based near San Pedro Sula, said that last year he had taken one or two groups each month from Honduras to the United States border. Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, however, he has had only one client. He blames Mr. Trump.

“People think he’s going to kick everyone out of the country,” Marcos said, asking that his full name not be published because of the illegal nature of his work. “Almost nobody’s going.”

Pro-enforcement messaging is only effective if combined with actual enforcement, but actual enforcement will require Lumpkin to push back on the administration’s anti-enforcement agenda that has permeated nearly every part of the agency.
Is Lumpkin Expected to Focus on Terrorism? With two military veterans in the top spots at ICE, it’s possible that the Biden administration is intending an increased focus on terrorism. Perhaps Lumpkin has been appointed because his background in national security and counterterrorism is meant to assist ICE in locating and arresting the large numbers of terrorism-linked illegal aliens who have entered the country under the Biden administration. DHS is aware of the severe national security threats they’ve allowed to unfold and though there’s been a lot of discussion of the number of terrorist threats identified along the U.S. border, what’s less public is a pressing concern regarding terrorists who are rumored to have been smuggled into the United States. If Lumpkin is putting his experience to work on this troubling issue, perhaps lives will be spared. But it will require Lumpkin to get ICE to significantly ramp up arrests, removals, and enforcement operations generally.

On the other hand, Lumpkin may be tasked by the administration with facilitating the immigration of more poorly vetted refugees from countries with serious national security threats.

Will Lumpkin Put ICE Back on Mission? Working at ICE will be a new experience for Lumpkin in that this appears to be the first time he will be running an agency with a mission that is routinely politicized and where his fellow political appointees are actively working to undermine the agency’s mission.

In a recent podcast, host Jon Becker lamented what he perceived as an effort by the Trump and Obama administrations to undermine bureaucracy:
One of things I’ve told people ... the last couple of administrations that’s bothered me is kind of the undermining of the bureaucracy, because to some degree the bureaucracy is the continuity, it’s the stability.

Lumpkin responded:

It is, very much so. ... If you’re gonna walk in there and say “I’m gonna do wholesale change to this operation”, okay, you’re delusional, you’re not gonna, it doesn’t matter if you’re Secretary of Defense or a GS-13 rolling in as a political appointee, it doesn’t matter, you’re not going to do wholesale change to the organization. They will fight you every step of the way.

Lumpkin claimed that policy changes are “done by consensus and it’s incremental”. The host responded that the “upside to the system resisting change is it prevents tyranny, it prevents somebody coming in and losing their mind and trying to undermine all of the institutions”.

That may be the case in a military environment, but that certainly hasn’t been the case inside ICE. The Biden appointees overseeing the management of our nation’s immigration laws have very clearly worked to undermine all of the institutions that Congress has tasked with carrying out enforcement of immigration laws. And the result has been a dramatic decrease in all enforcement metrics; under the Biden administration, ICE is making fewer arrests, carrying out fewer removals, and has dramatically reduced the number of criminal aliens being arrested. The result has been mass illegal immigration at a level never before experienced by the United States.

This has occurred while the Biden administration has spread misinformation aimed at the American public. While claiming their policies are designed to focus ICE on criminal aliens, the Biden administration has arrested significantly fewer criminal aliens than the Trump administration. For example, in FY 2018, the second year of the Trump administration, ICE arrested 138,117 illegal aliens with criminal records; in FY 2022, the second year of the Biden administration, ICE arrested only 46,396 illegal aliens with criminal records — a 66 percent decrease.

Lumpkin apparently doesn’t yet understand the mindset of the political appointees at DHS. He will soon learn that Kerry Doyle, his lead lawyer running ICE’s legal division, the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA), said that “ICE is an agency that is currently out of control” prior to her appointment and that she has been described by media as “an outspoken critic of the agency [who] has led many lawsuits against it”. He will learn that Doyle supports sanctuary-city policies that exist explicitly to frustrate ICE’s mission, leaving thousands of criminal aliens to run free. He will learn that Doyle is an open opponent of ICE’s critical 287(g) program, which creates partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement, and that her opposition to the program is in support of the release of criminal aliens arrested for a litany of crimes, including manslaughter, armed carjacking, armed robbery, aggravated assault and battery, child rape, strangulation of a pregnant woman, assault and battery of a 60-plus disabled person, kidnapping, home invasion, burglary, fentanyl trafficking, cocaine trafficking, carrying an unlicensed firearm, credit card and identity fraud, and drunk driving, to name a few crimes on the records of aliens arrested in Massachusetts, where she testified against the program. Lumpkin should also take a look at Doyle’s canceling of thousands of pending immigration cases.

Lumpkin will also learn that Claire Trickler-McNulty is effectively the top political appointee at ICE, and that she’s busily consolidating decision-making under herself on all parts of ICE’s mission. Media explain that Trickler-McNulty “previously worked for a nonprofit organization that demanded an end to deportations and was affiliated with an 'Abolish ICE' movement during her tenure”. Most recently, Trickler-McNulty issued a memorandum requiring that any new contracts for detention or the so-called Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program must be approved by her. It reads, in part, “Moving forward, the Office of Acquisition Management will not accept any ATD or detention procurement packages without the attached completed and signed form.” As I explained to the Daily Caller:

”This is unnecessary bureaucracy specifically designed to remove the ICE director from the decision-making process on detention matters, and give a Biden appointee veto power. It also makes the process to expand or change detention more cumbersome, effectively discouraging officers from doing anything to improve efficiency in carrying out the agency’s mission,” former ICE Chief of Staff Jon Feere, who served during the Trump Administration, told the DCNF about the memo.

The goal of this new bureaucracy is to prevent the increase in detention space, which is clearly needed as thousands of illegal aliens pour across the border and thousands more are ordered removed by immigration judges. But the goal of the anti-ICE activists working inside ICE alongside Lumpkin is to hobble the immigration system and prevent ICE from playing its critical law enforcement role.

If Lumpkin is concerned about “undermining the bureaucracy” he should take a hard look at his fellow political appointees and ask how their activities are impacting ICE’s mission.
In the recent podcast, Lumpkin said, “Some ineffective leaders put their ego too close to their position, they think they are that position; they are not. They just happen to be the incumbent, and they are the keeper of the standards.”

I can assure Lumpkin that the Biden appointees at ICE are not interested in keeping any standards and have no interest in leaving the agency in a better condition than they found it. A lot of work had to be done by myself and other Trump administration appointees to rebuild ICE after years of degradation by the Obama administration, which, like the Biden administration, had no interest in efficient and effective immigration enforcement. If Lumpkin doesn’t invoke his new authority and push his belief on why it’s important for political appointees to be good stewards of government, ICE will continue on its downward trajectory, endangering many Americans in the process.

Lumpkin Should Talk with Officers. As a person who served in Lumpkin’s role, I had the opportunity to learn from many ICE officers and special agents. They have first-hand experience, good recommendations, and can provide a detailed look at how policies and practices are working — or not working — in the field. All too often, ICE headquarters makes decisions without sufficient input from people with their boots on the ground. But because ICE is a law enforcement agency with a hierarchical structure, the field carries out the orders from headquarters as directed. In order to put the best immigration policies forward, Lumpkin should build relationships with field offices and seek direct feedback from staff within Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

Through this direct dialogue, Lumpkin will learn how the Biden administration’s policies are harming the agency and undermining public safety. Officers will likely explain to him how Secretary Mayorkas’ so-called “enforcement priorities” have allowed most foreign nationals to ignore the State Department’s visa requirements and remain in the United States for as long as they’d like, ignore court orders from immigration judges to return home, engage in asylum fraud without consequence, and commit a host of crimes without fear of removal.

Lumpkin will also learn how ICE is losing detention space rented from friendly sheriffs due to burdensome and uncoordinated audits that are designed to discourage cooperation with ICE. He’ll learn how this is resulting in the release of countless criminal aliens into our communities.

Lumpkin will also learn how the 287(g) program is identifying thousands of removable criminal aliens but is telling sheriffs to release these criminals back into the community because the Biden administration no longer supports this critical federal program and is choosing to harm the public rather than use the program as Congress intended.

Lumpkin will also learn how thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) are being subjected to abuse and exploitation at worksites across the nation — as reported by the New York Times in multiple exposés — because the Biden administration isn’t letting ICE assist Health and Human Services (HHS) with the vetting and arrest of sponsors, and has largely ended worksite investigations.

Lumpkin will also learn how the Biden administration has turned most parts of every community in the country into a “protected space” for criminal aliens, prohibiting ICE officers from even conducting surveillance near playgrounds even when an illegal-alien child abuser is suspected in the area. I’ve mapped out the ridiculously overbroad and pro-crime policy here.

There’s ample opportunity for Lumpkin to get an earful on what’s really happening on the ground. Officers will be hesitant to speak with a high-level appointee who is associated with the Biden administration’s lawless approach to law enforcement, but if he can ensure them that the conversation is off the record, he’d learn a lot about the horrific public safety threats that are occurring under his watch.

How Long Will Lumpkin Last? The Biden administration has seen a lot of turnover among its political appointees at ICE. The administration’s first appointment to ICE’s legal division, John Trasvina, only lasted about seven months. ICE’s chief of staff position under Biden was held by Jason Houser for a while and then by Deborah Fleischaker for about a year. The Biden administration’s appointment of Scott Shuchart, an anti-enforcement activist who said, "there has never been any problem of terrorists crossing illegally the southern border”, may be ongoing (as terrorists cross our borders), but what he’s up to is unknown at this point. And the Biden administration’s plan to appoint a sanctuary city-advocating sheriff to the director’s position fell apart after a year.
Lumpkin has some time to begin to clean up the dangerous mess created by his fellow appointees. Will he take the opportunity to do so, or will he simply add to ongoing devastation?