By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's top immigration enforcement official on Friday announced he will retire from the agency, a staffing shakeup in a key policy area for Trump as he faces re-election in November.
Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said in a statement that his plan to retire had been prolonged by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has created challenges for ICE operations both in the field and in immigration detention centers, where nearly 4,000 immigrants have tested positive for the disease.
The Republican president has made immigration a major theme of his first four-year term in office and a central part of his 2020 campaign against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, but Americans have become increasingly concerned about the virus and the struggling economy in recent months.
Still, Trump has implemented a number of sweeping immigration measures during the pandemic, suspending the entry of certain foreign workers and green card applicants and allowing U.S. authorities to rapidly deport migrants encountered at the country's borders with Mexico and Canada.
ICE tactical police were part of recent deployment of federal officers sent to quell protests outside a courthouse in Portland, Oregon, an effort that drew criticism from Democratic officials in the state.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE's parent agency, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about who would replace Albence. Derek Benner, executive associate director for ICE's homeland security investigations division, is the next highest ranking official.
Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, a Trump appointee at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the legal immigration system, is expected to move to ICE on Monday. She will take over as the chief of staff, a role that usually involves advising senior leadership.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O'Brien)