ICE Director John Morton stepping down

Monday - 6/17/2013, 2:11pm EDT

The director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday he is stepping down next month to work in the private sector.

John Morton, who has served as ICE director since May 2009, made the announcement in an email to staff, obtained by Federal News Radio.

John Morton

"Leading this agency has been an honor and a privilege, and I will always be thankful for the opportunity to work with you these past four years," Morton wrote in the message. "I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together during that time and look with awe on the incredible progress ICE has made as an agency. ICE has truly come of age and become an innovative, leading force in federal law enforcement."

As director, Morton oversaw a $5.7 billion budget and more than 20,000 employees in every state and 48 foreign countries.

Morton has served in government for more than 20 years. Prior to being nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as ICE director, he spent 15 years at the Justice Department.

In the email to staff, Morton cited agency accomplishments and praised his ICE colleagues.

"The men and women of this agency have taken ICE to heights few could have imagined in this agency's short ten-year existence," Morton wrote." During those ten years, ICE has evolved into a sophisticated law enforcement agency that is a force both at home and abroad." The agency also faced some hurdles during Morton's tenure.

Last September, Morton's chief of staff, Suzanne Barr, resigned amid allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior toward male employees.

Earlier this year, Gary Mead, the ICE official in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants, retired after it was revealed the agency released hundreds of people slated for deportation because of the across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, called on the president to quickly nominate a successor.

"Many of DHS' most important posts remain empty, including inspector general, which has been vacant for over two years, and Customs and Border Protection, which has not had a confirmed commissioner in over four years," McCaul said in a statement. "Without leadership, DHS operations, accountability and morale will continue to suffer, and the many dedicated individuals within the department deserve better from this administration."