Tony Pham

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Tony Pham
Acting Director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
In office
August 25, 2020 – December 31, 2020
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byMatthew Albence (acting)
Succeeded byJonathan Fahey (acting)
Personal details
Born1973 (age 50–51)
South Vietnam
Political partyRepublican
Tara Pham
(m. 2001)
EducationCollege of William & Mary (JD)
University of Richmond (JD)

Tuong Tony Huu Pham (born 1973) is an American attorney who served as an Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from August 25, 2020 to December 31, 2020.[1] A Vietnamese refugee, Pham emigrated from Saigon to the United States with his family in 1975, gaining citizenship in 1985. He graduated from William & Mary Law School in 1995 and from University of Richmond School of Law in 1999, becoming a prosecutor and earning awards from the Old Dominion Bar Association and Style Weekly.[2]

Pham attempted to run for public office once, losing the election in 2015. He then became the superintendent for the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, creating various programs including an addiction recovery program, an ankle monitor program, and an introduction of tablets which earned him praise from local media outlets. He resigned in December 2019 before becoming the director of ICE.[3][4] He resigned at the end of the year.[5][6]


Early life and career[edit]

Pham with his family at Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, 1975.

Pam was born in 1973 in what was then South Vietnam. His father was an engineer for the South Vietnamese Army.[7] On April 19, 1975, Pham and his family immigrated to the United States days before the fall of Saigon, with his father being left behind during their evacuation. They were aided by a family friend, an ambassador named John "Jerry" Edwards, who wrote a letter that said that Pham's father was his brother-in-law and a captain, although this was false.[8][9] They settled at Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, reuniting with their father three months later and moved to Henrico County, Virginia with the help of Commonwealth Catholic Charities.[10][11] He and his family lived off an apartment off Parham Road, where they struggled to learn English.[12] Both his parents worked minimum wage jobs and stressed to Pham and his siblings to study and work hard.[13] In 1985, after 10 years in America, he became a United States citizen and graduated from Meadowbrook High School in 1991.[14] Pham graduated from William & Mary Law School in 1995 and the University of University of Richmond School of Law in 1999. He then served as a law clerk in the Circuit Court of Henrico County before becoming a prosecutor in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

In 2009, Pham was recognized as one of Richmond's "Top 40 Under 40.[15] One year later, he was selected as one of Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s “Leaders in the Law” for his leadership in criminal law and the Asian American community. He has further been recognized in 2011 and 2012 as one Virginia Business’s "Legal Elite in Criminal Law." After being awarded, Pham was selected by the Supreme Court of Virginia to serve on the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board, the first ever Asian American attorney appointed to this position. He then served as a faculty of the Harry L. Carrico Professionalism Course on behalf of the Bar. In 2010, Pham was appointed to the Virginia Asian Advisory Board by Governor Tim Kaine, being reappointed by Bob McDonnell in 2014.[16][17] In 2013, he sought to fill the vacancy in the Three Chopt District School Board, saying that he wanted to be "part of the process of ensuring a quality education not only for my children, but all children."[18][19]

2015 Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney campaign[edit]

On February 23, 2015, Pham announced his candidacy for the Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney, being the fourth Republican to do so.[20] He sought to replace the incumbent Attorney Shannon Taylor, the only Democratic attorney in the race.[21][22] After the primary, a faulty report from the Pinchbeck Precinct was fixed, giving Pham the lead over the other nominees.[23] Pham was declared the winner the week after, winning by 67 votes, and was endorsed by the Henrico School Board.[24][25] Pham lost to Taylor with a 12.41% difference in the general election.[26][27]

Superintendent for the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail[edit]

In 2017, Pham became the superintendent for the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail after the previous superintendent, John Kuplinski, resigned from the post.[28] In 2019, Pham introduced various programs and reforms in the jail. An addiction recovery program, introducer in early 2019, empowered inmates with substance abuse disorders so that they could re-enter society, with Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran calling it "an example that should be shared among other jails across the state."[29][30][31] An ankle monitoring program, introducer months after, allowed inmates to be at home, at work, and visit the jail.[32] In April 2019, Pham introduced tablet computers to the jail, which allowed inmates to have video calls with their families.[33][34]

During his time as superintendent, the VPRJ was sued by former inmates accusing the jail of failing to keep the women safe. They also sued Kuplinski, Vice Chairman J. Randall Wheeler and former corrections officer Henry Rhim, the latter had been convicted for sexually assaulting two inmates.[35][36] With the accusations, Pham started an internal investigations unit to review and report findings to him, as well as instituting stronger segregation between men and women.[37][38][39] There was also an incident where a female inmate claimed that, during detoxification, she and other inmates were "treated worse than animals," although Pham disputed the story.[40]

In December 2019, Pham announced that he would be resigning from the post at the end of the year to spend time with his family.[41]

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement[edit]

On January 24, 2020, Pham became the Principal Legal Advisor for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Acting Director Matthew Albence.[42][43] In August 2020, Pham was appointed by President Donald Trump to replace Albence after he resigned, becoming the first Asian American and Vietnamese person in the office.[44] His first few weeks under Pham saw 128 undocumented immigrants detained in California as a part of Operation Rise, which was criticized for targeting sanctuary cities.[45] He was also criticized for signing off on erecting controversial billboards in Pennsylvania as well as conducting arrests in Minneapolis–Saint Paul.[46][47][48]

Many Asian Americans expressed disappointment that Pham would become the director of ICE, criticizing him for deporting immigrants while being an immigrant himself.[49] Philippa Hughes, Pham's cousin, published several op-ed's that criticized Pham and questioned his claim that he had a "lawful path to citizenship."[8][50][51] Other groups, like the Organization of Chinese Americans, were hopeful that because of Pham being an immigrant, that he would have reforms in the agency.[52][53] The announcement of Pham's appointment also triggered protests against him.[54][55] Some protesters gathered at Pham's home in Henrico, with some protesters, including a Philadelphia woman, were charged for entering the property.[56][57][58] Some called for attorney Shannon Taylor to release the protesters,[59][60] while Pham reacted by saying that he understood the frustration but condemned the manner of the protest.[61]

In December 2020, Pham announced that he would be resigning from the post at the end of the year to be with his family.[62][63] The departure came five months after he replaced Albence, with Pham thanking Trump for the opportunity.[64][65] With his resignation, two advocacy groups claimed said that he would be remembered for his "gross abuse of power" with "little regard for our refugee and immigrant communities’ health and safety during a global pandemic."[66][67]

Personal life[edit]

In 1999, he was initiated into the Upsilon Nu chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.[68][69][70]

Electoral history[edit]

Results of the 2015 Commonwealth's Attorney election in Henrico County.
  •   50–60%
  •   60–70%
  •   70–80%
  •   80–90%
  •   50–60%
  •   60–70%
2015 Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney – Republican Primary[71]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Tony Pham 7,381 40.83%
Republican Jeffrey L. Everhart 7,314 40.46%
Republican Shannon Dillon 3,382 18.71%
2015 Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney election[72]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Shannon Taylor 35,020 56.10%
Republican Tony Pham 27,272 43.69%


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  2. ^ "Tony H. Pham, 36". Style Weekly. October 14, 2009.
  3. ^ Alvarez, Priscilla; Sands, Geneva (August 25, 2020). "Top ICE lawyer to lead immigration agency". CNN.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Sweeney, Caroline (October 29, 2020). "Immigration, race, family separation all topics in conversation with acting head of ICE". WEWS-TV.
  5. ^ Silva, Cynthia (December 14, 2020). "Tony Pham, interim director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to step down". NBC News.
  6. ^ "Tony Pham out as ICE director". Northwest Asian Weekly. December 17, 2020.
  7. ^ "Tony Pham recognized as one of Richmond's Top 40 Under 40 Leaders". Style Weekly. October 13, 2009. Archived from the original on October 17, 2009. Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  8. ^ a b Hughes, Philippa (November 30, 2020). "My Cousin Runs ICE. He's Killing the Same American Dream Granted to His Own Parents". GEN.
  9. ^ Shaw, Adam (October 31, 2020). "New ICE chief Tony Pham draws on refugee past as he defends agency from attacks". Fox News.
  10. ^ Pham, Tony (April 19, 2018). "Pham: Perspective … It's All We Need". Bearing Drift.
  11. ^ Tamanahama, Akemi (August 26, 2020). "New ICE Director a Refugee from Vietnam". AsAmNews.
  12. ^ "Tony Pham recognized as one of Richmond's Top 40 Under 40 Leaders". Vietnamese American Bar Association of the Greater Washington DC Area. October 13, 2009.
  13. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve (November 20, 2018). "Giving thanks: How a single letter saved five lives in 1975". The Virginia Gazette.
  14. ^ McConnell, Jim (September 16, 2020). "Tony Pham's story: From refugee to head of ICE". Chesterfield Observer.
  15. ^ Nobles, Ryan (October 13, 2009). "Style Weekly's Top 40 Under 40: Meet Tony Pham". WWBT.
  16. ^ "2018 Standing on the Shoulders of Giants Award Recipient". University of Richmond.
  17. ^ "100 Hometown Heroes – Brought to you by the personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen – Celebrating 100 Years in 2010". Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen. 2010.
  18. ^ "Three Chopt District vacancy candidate: Tony H. Pham". Richmond Times-Dispatch. September 19, 2013.
  19. ^ "Tony H. Pham". Richmond Times-Dispatch. September 19, 2013.
  20. ^ Henrico County Republican Committee (April 10, 2015). "Official Committee Meeting Call" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2021. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  21. ^ McKelway, Bill (February 23, 2015). "Pham enters Henrico prosecutor race". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  22. ^ Strong, Ted (October 31, 2015). "Race for prosecutor tops constitutional contests in Henrico". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  23. ^ McKelway, Bill (June 12, 2015). "Pham now leads in bid to run for prosecutor". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  24. ^ McKelway, Bill (June 16, 2015). "Pham will be Republican candidate in Henrico procecutor's race". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  25. ^ Cocke, Beverly; Marshall, Lisa; Ogburn, Micky. "UPDATE: Henrico School Board Members Endorse Tony Pham!".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ Strong, Ted (November 3, 2015). "Taylor fends off Pham to win second term as Henrico prosecutor". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  27. ^ Lazarus, Jeremy M. (November 6, 2015). "Cooper wins in squeaker". Richmond Free Press.
  28. ^ "Resolution Making Appointments to the Colonial Community Criminal Justice Board". November 13, 2017.
  29. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve (May 28, 2019). "Jail graduates 6 inmates from addiction treatment program's first class".
  30. ^ "WAITT Graduation – and an Announcement!". Real Life Program. January 14, 2020.
  31. ^ "A New Chapter for the Ladies of WAITT". Real Life Program. June 13, 2019. Archived from the original on January 22, 2021. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  32. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve (April 1, 2019). "At home, in jail: new program lets inmates travel to work, sleep in their own beds". The Virginia Gazette.
  33. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve (May 9, 2019). "Regional jail looks to bridge the communication gap for inmates and their families". The Virginia Gazette.
  34. ^ Toliver, Aesia (June 14, 2019). "Local inmates at VPRJ will get free video chat on Father's Day". WAVY-TV.
  35. ^ Fearing, Sarah (August 29, 2018). "'They're in control': Former corrections officer convicted of sexually assaulting 2 inmates at regional jail". Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.
  36. ^ Fearing, Sarah (August 25, 2019). "Federal lawsuits filed against regional jail after corrections officer convicted of sexually assaulting inmates". Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.
  37. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve (April 25, 2019). "Former inmates at Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail sue after guard convicted of sexual assault". Daily Press.
  38. ^ "Inmates sue Virginia jail, ex-guard convicted of sex assault". WFXR. April 26, 2019.
  39. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve (25 April 2019). "VPRJ embroiled in federal lawsuits after former jail guard is convicted of sexual assaults against 2 inmates". Daily Press.
  40. ^ Horne, Chris (August 12, 2019). "'It was pretty savage': ER nurse jailed for drugs calls jail's treatment of detoxing inmates inhumane". WAVY-TV.
  41. ^ Roberts Jr., Steve. "Head of regional jail to resign at end of year". Daily Press – via PressReader.
  42. ^ "Pham, who once sought Henrico comm. attorney's seat, resigning as acting ICE director". Henrico Citizen. December 11, 2020.
  43. ^ Hải, An (May 27, 2020). "Người gốc Việt trở thành cố vấn pháp lý cho các phiên tòa trục xuất của ICE". VOA Tiếng Việt (in Vietnamese).
  44. ^ Camilo Montoya-Galvez (August 25, 2020). "Tony Pham, former refugee, prosecutor and jail supervisor, tapped to lead ICE". CBS News.
  45. ^ Tam, Sonia (December 12, 2020). "ICE director Tony Pham plans to step down". AsAmNews.
  46. ^ Alvarez, Priscilla (December 10, 2020). "Acting director of ICE to step down at the end of December". CNN.
  47. ^ Alvarez, Priscilla (October 2, 2020). "Trump administration puts up billboards of immigration violators in Pennsylvania". CNN.
  48. ^ McKinney, Matt (October 30, 2020). "ICE director, in Twin Cities, announces more than 100 immigration arrests". Star Tribune.
  49. ^ Vo, Allison; Dalger, Rhenie; Carmona, Armando (September 4, 2020). "Joint Statement from Refugee Communities to New Head of ICE Tony Pham". ViewRISE.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  50. ^ Hughes, Philippa (November 2, 2020). "My Refugee Cousin is the Head of ICE". AllMomClub.
  51. ^ Hughes. Philippa (November 2, 2020). "My Refugee Cousin is the Head of ICE". Ms.
  53. ^ Wang, Claire (August 10, 2018). "Tony Pham, new interim ICE director and Vietnamese refugee, draws criticism from Asian groups". NBC News.
  54. ^ Mullett, Layne (21 September 2020). "Asian Americans Protest ICE Head Tony Pham, Vietnamese Refugee". American Friends Service Committee.
  55. ^ McCormick-Cavanagh, Conor (September 18, 2020). "Asian Americans Protest ICE Head Tony Pham, Vietnamese Refugee". Westword.
  56. ^ "Philadelphia woman charged in incident at acting ICE director's Henrico home". Henrico Citizen. October 13, 2020.
  57. ^ Nakamura, Joyce (22 October 2020). "Protesters at ICE Director's Home Face Charges". East Wind Ezine.
  58. ^ Bowes, Mark (October 12, 2020). "Philadelphia woman charged in protest at Henrico home of acting ICE director in September". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  60. ^ "SEARAC Calls on Henrico Commonwealth Attorney to Drop the Charges Against Southeast Asian and Charlotte Organizers". Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. October 20, 2020.
  61. ^ "Newly appointed acting ICE Director Tony Pham reacts to local protest". WAVY-TV. September 15, 2020.
  62. ^ "Tony Pham, Interim Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to Step Down". Homeland Security Today. December 16, 2020.
  63. ^ Mirshahi, Dean (December 14, 2020). "Tony Pham, acting ICE director, stepping down at the end of the year". WRIC-TV.
  64. ^ Tillman, Rachel. "Acting ICE Director Tony Pham to Step Down in December". Spectrum News.
  65. ^ Lotus, Jean (December 14, 2020). "ICE acting director Tony Pham to leave after five months". United Press International.
  66. ^ Wilson, Elaine Sanchez (December 16, 2020). "SEARAC Statement on Resignation of ICE Acting Director Tony Pham". Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.
  67. ^ La, Tracy; Vidal, Viridiana (December 11, 2020). "Tony Pham is Out. But Accountability Requires More Than Resignations". National Day Laborer Organizing Network.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  68. ^ Pham, Tony; Jones, George (June 2000). "Upcoming Events". Omega Psi Phi.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  69. ^ "A Quarterly Publication of the International Committee on Fatherhood and Mentoring" (PDF). Omega Psi Phi. May 2014.
  70. ^ "Welcome to Upsilon Nu Chapter". Omega Psi Phi.
  71. ^ "Henrico County Commonwealths Attorney – 2015 Republican Primary (6/9/2015)". The Virginia Public Access Project.
  72. ^ "Henrico County Commonwealths Attorney". The Virginia Public Access Project.
Government offices
Preceded by Acting Director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
August 25, 2020 - December 31, 2020
Succeeded by