-- The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said on Friday that he has no regrets about testifying earlier this week that all undocumented immigrants should be fearful of deportation.
"I have zero regrets. It needed to be said," Thomas Homan said of his testimony to Congress.
"If you choose to enter this country illegally, which is a crime, you should be concerned. You violated a law in this country, and I’ll tell you, you can’t have it both ways," he added. "You can’t be part of this country and not respect its laws."
Homan, who spoke to ABC News in Miami during the DHS-led conference on prosperity and security in Central America, emphasized that ICE is still targeting and prioritizing criminal aliens, public and national security threats, people with felony convictions and those with a court order to leave the U.S.
He added that people who were surprised by his comments "obviously" hadn't read President Trump's executive order on immigration enforcement. The executive order, signed in January, undid the Obama-era memo that required ICE agents to prioritize certain categories of illegal aliens.
"The executive orders could have been written in one sentence. ‘We will now enforce the laws on the books,'" Homan said.
The ICE chief said immigration violations are like any other crime -- if you lie on your taxes or speed on the highway -- you run the risk of getting caught.
"You can’t be a part of this country, unless you have respect for the laws of this country and the people that protect you -- the people that enforce the laws," he added.
Homan called on the public, the media and activist organizations "not to vilify the men and women of ICE" for enforcing these laws, and said that if people don’t like them, they should talk to their legislators.
Homan said that ICE is not targeting Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients -- young people that were for the most part brought to the U.S. by their parents or family members.
On Thursday evening, DHS announced that it will rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Parents of American and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which never went into effect, but that DACA will continue.
Nearly 800,000 people received DACA status since the inception of the program five years ago. Others have continued to receive approval for DACA under the Trump administration, although there are no guarantees it will continue indefinitely.
"DACA, our persons that were given deferred action, were not taking enforced action on them. They remain deferred action and we don’t target them for arrest unless they violate their status, which means committing crimes," Homan said.
He also addressed the reported rising fear in immigrant communities.
"These are communities that want to keep their families safe and they certainly don’t want the criminal element running through their community," he said.
Homan added that not allowing ICE to arrest people in jails and courthouses makes situations worse for families and illegal immigrants. Many sanctuary cities decline ICE access to their facilities.
"I’m going to arrest him either way. If I have to go to a house that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
“Problem is, if I go to a house, if I find anybody else in that house and they have immigration issues, now they have my attention,” he said about the enforcement authority under the president's executive order.
Homan also pushed back on media reports that undocumented immigrants have been arrested in so-called sensitive locations. It's ICE policy to refrain from making arrests at churches, schools and hospitals unless there are extenuating circumstances, which he said ICE was in full compliance with.
Homan was visibly passionate about these issues, explaining that as the first law enforcement officer to sit in his role, he’s seen situations that the general public can't relate to.
"People haven’t seen what I’ve seen. Or many Border Patrol agents [have seen]. They haven’t seen the dead immigrants on the trail that have been left stranded. They weren’t in Phoenix, Arizona when these organization were holding these people hostage, raping the women, molesting the children, killing people that couldn’t pay their smuggling fees," he said.
"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, laid dead under his father that suffocated in the back," he added.
Homan said that the criminal networks that smuggle economic migrants and families seeking a better life are the same ones smuggling drugs.
"By us not enforcing the laws, we give these criminal organizations a marketplace," he said.