Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan said in an interview that he has "zero regrets" about his remarks before Congress this week, expanding on them.
"It needed to be said," Homan told CNN on the sidelines of a Central American prosperity and security conference.
"And by me saying you should be worried, you should be afraid -- if you lie on your taxes, you've got to be worried, 'Is the IRS going to audit me?' ... When you speed down the highway, you've got to worry, 'Am I going to get a speeding ticket?' You worry. It's natural human behavior."
Homan's similar words in Congress at a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday sparked outrage from Democrats and immigration advocates, who have decried what they call fear-mongering in communities. Local law enforcement and officials have complained that the Trump administration's enforcement activities have harmed immigrant communities, making people afraid to go to school, seek medical attention and report crimes for fear of being deported.
Homan said that the administration is prioritizing for arrest criminals, national security threats, individuals who reenter the country after being legally deported and those who have a final order for deportation.
Nevertheless, he said Trump and his administration have made clear that any undocumented immigrant could be arrested and face deportation proceedings at any time, unless they have current and valid protection under DACA.
"When I say all people are on the table, that's what the executive orders say," Homan told CNN. "The executive orders could have been written in one sentence: we will now enforce the laws on the books, which we haven't been allowed to do."
Blaming sanctuary policies, communities
Homan disputed the idea that ICE and the administration are responsible for fear in immigrant communities -- saying that sanctuary policies, immigrants who don't cooperate and the spread of false stories are really to blame.
He brought up detainers -- requests by ICE to local law enforcement agencies to hold a person for up to 48 hours beyond when they would otherwise be released so that ICE can pick them up from the jail. Many jurisdictions do not honor those requests, some to maintain trust with local communities and some because courts have found doing so to be unconstitutional.
Homan said the release of those individuals amounts to "forcing our hands" -- meaning his agents must make those arrests at homes, public areas or courthouses. That could mean that other undocumented immigrants around that person could be caught up as well.
Those incidents also spur false stories of raids or sweeps, Homan added, emphatically denying that his agency does anything except targeting individuals who are priorities for removal, plus people they encounter incidental to those actions.
"Is ICE putting the fear in the community or is it other people putting fear in the community?" Homan said. "The false stories out there (are) what's sending the chill down the spine of the immigrant community. If I had the cooperation I needed, most of these arrests could be made in a county jail."
And, as for criticisms that ICE arrests tear apart families, Homan said the blame should be on undocumented immigrants who choose to start families in the US in the first place.
"The constant story about us separating families ... when someone enters this country illegally, or someone overstays their visa, they know they're in this country illegally," Homan said. "If they take it upon themselves to have a child in this country and becomes a US citizen by birth, he put his family in that position, not ICE, not Border Patrol. And to vilify the men and women of ICE as separating families is unfair."
Homan also passionately disputed the idea that his policies were heartless, growing visibly emotional as he recounted things he'd seen in the field that still give him nightmares, he said.
His argument: The humane thing to do is to deter people from paying the human smugglers and cartels that are the only way to illegally cross the Southwest border.
"Why am I so strong in what I'm trying to do?" Homan said. "Because people haven't seen what Tom Homan's seen ... They haven't seen the dead immigrants on a trail that were left stranded. They weren't in Phoenix, Arizona when these organizations were holding people hostage, raping the women, molesting the children, killing people that couldn't pay their smuggling fees, doubling their smuggling fees after they got to the United States. ... People weren't standing with me in Victoria, Texas, in the back of a tractor trailer with 19 dead aliens including a five-year-old child laying dead under his father that suffocated in the back of this tractor trailer by these smuggling organizations."