“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” the Bard famously said, and while many in places of chief command can attest to that, in whatever field they may toil, those who are second-in- command have their own unique challenges. As both buffer and ally to the leader, at the same time they must connect to the wider team, less as a middle person and more as messenger, diplomat, and the one who must execute orders both large and small.
In law enforcement, such responsibilities can vary greatly from day to day, hour to hour and sometimes minute to minute. In the case of one of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deputy field office director (DFOD), Arthur Wilson, Jr., his tasks changed greatly on one day back in 2018. He and his team had to ensure the immediate release of 29 foreign-born nationals from the Bureau of Prisons, due to the First Step Act of 2018, and ensure they were located and processed for removal within one week of notification.
In another case on Father’s Day several years ago several congressional representatives showed up unannounced at the Elizabeth, New Jersey, Detention Center and wanted to conduct an onsite inspection. DFOD Ruben Perez had to respond, because no matter what a DFOD’s job is to act professionally under all circumstances. Perez showed up, listened to the various representatives’ concerns, and took them on a tour of the facility. There were no surprises. The facility is very well-maintained, which was obvious even with a surprise inspection. Was it unnerving? Of course. DFOD Perez would’ve rather been home with his family, relaxing and barbecuing. But that’s just how this job works: expect the unexpected.
At ICE ERO, the DFOD holds a unique and valued role. As the second-in-command to the local field office director (FOD), they are responsible for a multitude of tasks, which include oversight of the Non-Detained Management Division, Fugitive Operations (FUGOPS), and the Criminal Apprehension Division (CAD) as well as decisions regarding arrests and detention of noncitizens and management of both law enforcement and certain civilian staff. In addition, externally DFODs often act as congressional liaisons and interact with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders.
We, ERO Newark DFODs Arthur Wilson, Jr., and Ruben Perez, share what we have learned from our extensive years as we have carried out our duties.
Q: Talk to us about what has driven you to remain committed for so many years to ICE, an agency with many challenges, including an unpredictable, high-pressure environment and lots of media scrutiny.
DFOD Wilson: Beyond the fact that ERO serves the overall good of community safety, on a personal basis there’s a real sense of family here at ERO. I’m not just coming into a job, I’m coming to a place where I have real friends, people I care about and who care about me. These relationships go back many years, to 1998 when I first joined what was then known as INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services). When you take on a job as challenging as ours, that makes all the difference.
DFOD Perez: No day is the same at ERO. If you thrive on that kind of challenging environment, this is the place for you. I know it is for me. In addition to sharing the mission of community safety that Art mentioned, there are external challenges, such as dealing with NGOs and acting as a congressional liaison, and internal ones, such as staff management and oversight of asylum cases to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for credible fear if the individual is returned to their home country. All of this keeps me very busy on any given day and keeps me focused on our overall objective to keep the country safe from individuals who pose potential or real threats to the community at large.
Q: What is an average day like for you as a DFOD at ERO Newark?
DFOD Wilson: No day is really the same. This, of course, is typical of law enforcement, but with ICE this is also complicated with changes in presidential administrations, which can influence what priorities of immigration law are emphasized. To stay on top of my job as a DFOD, I have to be flexible in shifting political climates, including local and state politics. The best part is that we have such an adaptable workforce where we can quickly shift our focus where it’s needed most.
DFOD Perez: I agree with everything Art has said and can add some additional things to the unpredictability of day-to-day life as a DFOD at ERO. There are pressures, both external and internal, that can fluctuate on any given day as discussed in the previous example on Father’s Day at Elizabeth Detention Center when we were suddenly surprised by a visit from congressional representatives who demanded an immediate tour of the facility. I’ve been able to maintain good relationships with congressional representatives, even if we don’t agree on all issues, simply by showing them professional courtesy and respect. After all, they’re our representatives. It’s my duty to answer their questions, to the extent that I can.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
DFOD Wilson: I would say it’s twofold. There is the previously mentioned aspect of community safety, where we remove dangerous noncitizens from the community, for instance gang members from groups like MS-13 who have terrorized entire neighborhoods. But there’s also another part, much less publicized, where we exercise discretion when it comes to whether to place a noncitizen in detention. If, for instance, the person in question does not pose a danger to the community at large and is the primary means of economic support for his family, then an alternative to detention may be considered. The media doesn’t tend to present this more compassionate side of ERO, but it’s something we do routinely and is rewarding in its own way, to exercise discretion when it’s warranted. On a personal basis, I can say that in my many years of service at ERO, the sense of family I have when I come to work, which was true in Los Angeles and has also been true here in Newark, makes a big difference. Long story short, when you like the people you work with, it makes a tough job easier!
DFOD Perez: I agree with Art about the sense of family. I’ve worked side by side with many of my colleagues for decades. You develop trust, friendship, a sense of community that goes deep and is essential in law enforcement. There are other aspects that are also very rewarding. I like the great variety of tasks that my job as a DFOD entails. I deal with congressional representatives, deportation officers, administrative issues, civilian employees, asylum requests, detention issues… it’s a long and varied list and it makes my job interesting on any given day.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
DFOD Wilson: On occasion, I must impose disciplinary measures with officers as a DFOD. In most cases they don’t involve serious infractions, which you think make it easier, but it’s not the case for me. We all make mistakes, and with the smaller ones I must address with officers, it can be harder in a way than with serious infractions, where the matter must be addressed head-on. In cases with smaller infractions, I typically use more discretion, and look at the overall record of the officer when deciding how to proceed.
DFOD Perez: Yes, disciplinary measures are never an easy task, that’s for sure. I can add to that the misperceptions about ERO, often promoted in the media, can be a challenge on any given day. Reporters who get to know us find that we are a very professional group, compassionate, and whose main mission as with all law enforcement is to keep the community safe. However, having said that, I can say that knowing the truth about our mission, seeing the real courage and dedication our officers show in the field every day is enough inspiration for me and more than makes up for any public misperceptions.
Q: What advice would you give to those considering a career at ERO?
DFOD Wilson: Consider the commitment very seriously. ERO is really for those who are looking for a long-term career and all the pressures that come with a career in law enforcement. It takes a special individual, committed to our mission of community safety, to be an ERO officer. That said, we also get a great deal of appreciation from our communities and law enforcement partners. There is also, as I’ve mentioned before, a great sense of unity here at ERO, among both law enforcement and civilian employees. You can never underestimate what it means to look forward to coming into your job, no matter how unpredictable it may be on any given day.
DFOD Perez: Art has hit on some great points, particularly when it comes to the big picture. I would also add some other practical elements that are very helpful in a job that can be very challenging on the best of days. First off, there are great opportunities for advancement. Both Art and I came from the Armed Forces – Art from the Army, me from the Navy. Each of us moved up in rank through the years based on successful job performances and held various positions as line officers and was promoted through the ranks to a DFOD. As long as one makes serious efforts to grow professionally, advancement tends to come with the territory. Also, as long as one abides by the rules of conduct at ICE, job security is another advantage that comes with working at ERO. Compared to what can be the topsy-turvy private employment world, that can be quite a perk. Add to this substantial medical and retirement benefits and you have a career that rewards you well for your hard-earned commitment.
More About ERO
ERO enforces U.S. immigration law at, within, and beyond our borders. ERO’s work is critical to the enforcement of immigration law against those who present a danger to our national security, are a threat to public safety, or who otherwise undermine the integrity of our immigration system. ERO operations target public safety threats, such as convicted criminal undocumented individuals and gang members, as well as individuals who have otherwise violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives. For more about career opportunities with ICE, please visit: https://www.ice.gov/careers. For more information about ERO Newark please visit us on Twitter: @ERONewark