The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency announced on Tuesday that Tony Pham, a top lawyer within the organization, will succeed Matt Albence as the new director of the agency, CNN reports.
“As a seasoned leader with DHS Tony will ensure ICE continues to safeguard our country’s borders from crime and illegal immigration,” ICE said in a statement.
Before Pham joined ICE he was the superintendent of the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail and as a special assistant US attorney. He was the first Asian American to serve on the Virginia State Bar’s Disciplinary Board. In 2010, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) appointed him to the state’s Asian American Advisory Board. He joined the ICE in January, serving as its principal legal advisor.
Pham is also a refugee from Vietnam, according to Buzzfeed News. His family came to the US in 1975 when Pham was a young boy and became citizens 10 years later. Pham disclosed his citizenship story in an email to his fellow ICE attorneys when he first joined the agency. He emphasized that his family followed the “lawful path to citizenship.”
Pham also spoke about his family’s in a 2018 Virginia Gazette article. He said that on April 19, 1975 he, his mother and two sisters boarded one of the last commercial flights out of Vietnam. He was 2-years-old at the time.
Pham’s father, an engineer for the South Vietnamese army, fled with his extended family from Hanoi to Saigon in 1954 after persecution in the north. The previous persecution put them at risk in 1975.
The Pham family spent three months in Arkansas before being relocated to a one-bedroom apartment in Henrico County, Virginia. His father worked as an auto-mechanic, and his mother worked as a seamstress. According to Pham, his family struggled and would often live off a bowl of rice and an egg each day.
“God, you think about our history in this country,” Pham said of Vietnamese refugees, in an interview with the Virginia Gazette.
“I’m not even first generation (American). People died in that war so one kid could someday run a jail.
“I’m thankful for being alive, for my parents, for the 58,000 who gave their lives so my community could get to this country.”
Some Asian Americans expressed their disappointment with Pham on social media. Tung Nguyen, an MD, researcher and immigrant himself, said he was over Vietnamese Americans who “forget where they came from.”