Thomas Winkowski is now in charge of his second Department of Homeland Security agency in less than three months.
In March, the Customs and Border Protection deputy commissioner was appointed by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson as principle deputy assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He’s the top guy, but requires a convoluted title so as not to limit how long he can stay in the job. John Morton left as ICE director in July 2013. His responsibilities were carried out by John Sandweg as acting director. But the ICE director is a political appointee and the law only allows the job to be filled on an acting basis for a certain amount of time, so Sandweg’s term came to an end.
DHS made the move because the likelihood of any ICE director being confirmed by the Senate any time soon, especially with the political disagreement on Capitol Hill over immigration reform, is virtually none. So it’s possible Winkowski could lead ICE for 2.5 years through the end of the Obama administration. At that point, he could return to CBP or retire.
At ICE, Winkowski is in charge of a $5.6 billion budget and nearly 20,000 employees. He has experience in immigration matters since CBP has as part of its mission controlling legal entry into the United States at ports of entry and works closely with ICE. One of CBP’s component divisions is the Border Patrol, which works to stop illegal immigrants from trying to sneak across the border.
Winkowski spent nearly four decades at CBP and was acting commissioner for nearly a year. He was transferred to ICE just days after President Obama’s nominee as CBP commissioner, Gil Kerlikowski, was confirmed by the Senate.
CBP tweaked Winkowski’s title from acting commissioner back to deputy with responsibility for Customs operations to keep him at the helm longer.
Prior to serving as acting and deputy commissioner, Winkowski was assistant commissioner of field operations.
Kevin McAleenan is now the acting deputy commissioner at CBP.
This column was published in the July 2014 issue of American Shipper.