Alonzo R. Peña, the former deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President George W. Bush, died on Friday. He was 63, and passed away in San Antonio, Texas, surrounded by his wife, Magda, his son, siblings and family.
“There are so many evils in the world. Someone has to stand up to injustice. If not us, who?” Peña told colleagues upon his retirement in 2010. “There has to be justice, rule of law that must be at the forefront of every society.”
Acting ICE Director Ronald Vitiello said that Peña’s family was the source of “strength and pride” that helped him fight an undisclosed illness.
“Al chose a life of public service, utilizing his discipline and determination on the front line of law enforcement,” Vitiello said. “While Al will be remembered for his distinguished career, he will mostly be remembered as a leader who never lost his humility, sense of humor, or hope. His dedication and love for his family, his profession, and his colleagues is an example of a life well lived.”
Peña was born on Feb. 10, 1955, into humble but proud beginnings in Falfurrias, Texas. His father, Yrineo Peña (who passed away at age 88 in 2007), was a tank commander in the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division in World War II, and, after receiving a Purple Heart and returning home became a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and an agent for Farmers Insurance. Peña would graduate from Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas, and later attended the U.S. Customs Service Graduate School of Management at National-Louis University; the Advanced Executive Leadership Training Course from the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Va. and the Senior Executive Fellowship Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Peña initially harbored dreams of becoming an Olympic runner, but instead chose a career in law enforcement, becoming a Texas state trooper in 1982. He would later serve as a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and he rose through the ranks to serve as the ICE Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of San Antonio, SAC of Houston and then SAC of Phoenix. Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano named him as the DHS attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. He later served as special advisor to former ICE Director John Morton, who promoted Peña as ICE’s deputy director, where he oversaw and directed 20,000 federal employees and a $5 billion operating budget. After his retirement, Peña and his wife moved to San Antonio and he founded DMEP Strategic Consultants.
Peña left a lasting impression as SAC of San Antonio, as he is credited with the creation of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force in 2004. The goal was to tackle cross-border crime in Laredo, Texas, and through “his tireless efforts and sheer strength of personality, Peña succeeded where others may have failed,” according to an ICE press release on his 2010 retirement. “He has overseen investigations related to anti-terrorism, worksite enforcement, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, financial crimes and child exploitation and generally championed all that’s right and just.”
NLLEO lost a great friend and mentor in Alonzo Pena….after a long battle of an illness we send our condolences to his family.
Mr. Peña oversaw and directed some 20,000 federal employees and an annual operating… https://t.co/CDGfodG5pL
— Dallas NLLEO-Dallas CLEAT (@DallasNLLEO) January 12, 2019
The family will receive friends at a visitation from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at Porter Loring Mortuary North. Peña’s funeral will be held on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Church at 20523 Huebner Road, San Antonio. Memorial contributions can be made to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.