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Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

Office of the Principal Legal Advisor

We will protect the homeland by diligently litigating cases while adhering to the highest standards of professional conduct, providing timely and accurate legal advice; and optimizing resources to advance DHS and ICE missions.

The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) is the largest legal program in DHS, with over 1,250 attorneys and 290 support personnel. By statute, OPLA serves as the exclusive representative of DHS in immigration removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, litigating all removal cases including those against criminal aliens, terrorists, and human rights abusers.

OPLA also provides a full range of legal services to ICE programs and offices. OPLA provides legal advice and prudential counsel to ICE personnel on their customs, criminal, and immigration law enforcement authorities, the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act, ethics, liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and a range of administrative law issues, such as contract, fiscal, and employment law. OPLA represents the agency before the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Board of Contract Appeals. OPLA attorneys provide essential support to the Department of Justice in the prosecution of ICE cases and in the defense of ICE’s authorities in federal court.

In addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., OPLA has 25 field locations with a presence in more than 60 offices throughout the United States.

Chief of Staff

  • Executive Communications Unit
  • Headquarters Administrative Operations
  • Knowledge Management Division
  • Strategic Management Division

Enforcement and Litigation

Through close client engagement and specialized legal advice and counsel, Enforcement and Litigation (E&L) advances U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) homeland security and public safety mission by enforcing our nation’s immigration, customs, and criminal laws and policies, defending the operational authorities and decisions of ICE officers and agents in the federal courts, and guiding and supporting the advocacy of ICE attorneys before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (Board), with special emphasis on cases involving criminal aliens, human rights violators, and aliens who threaten our national security. Six Office of the Principal Legal Advisor Headquarters divisions comprise E&L: District Court Litigation Division (DCLD), Enforcement and Removal Operations Law Division (EROLD), Human Rights Violator Law Division (HRVLD), Homeland Security Investigations Law Division (HSILD), Immigration Law and Practice Division (ILPD), and National Security Law Division (NSLD)

District Court Litigation Division

DCLD defends ICE’s operational prerogatives and activities, its budget, and its people by zealously representing agency interests in civil litigation and through the adjudication of administrative tort actions. DCLD’s attorneys serve as agency counsel and manage federal civil litigation filed against ICE and cases that implicate ICE equities. DCLD attorneys work closely with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entities, including U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the Office of Immigration Litigation, the Federal Programs Branch, and the Torts Branch to advocate for and ensure that ICE’s interests are represented in litigation. DCLD assists ICE personnel and DOJ in all aspects of federal litigation, including strategy, motion practice, discovery, and settlement negotiations, in cases ranging from common-law tort suits, lawsuits against ICE employees in their individual capacity under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), and claims seeking injunctive or declaratory relief, including class action habeas corpus relief. DCLD also provides oral and written advice to ICE leadership and employees regarding potential litigation risks, represents ICE’s interests in litigation-related discussions with other agencies and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components, and adjudicates administrative claims for personal injuries and property damage pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act. For more information about administrative claims and the filing process, please click here.

Enforcement and Removal Operations Law Division

EROLD provides timely, accurate, and comprehensive legal advice and operational guidance to agency personnel in furtherance of ICE’s immigration enforcement and public safety missions. EROLD attorneys prepare legal opinions, review and draft policy directives, legislation, regulations, and other materials for DHS, ICE, and OPLA leadership on the legal and policy aspects of Enforcement and Removal Operations’ (ERO) immigration enforcement functions, including: alternatives to detention, civil immigration arrest and detention authorities, civil rights and disabilities, conditions of confinement, detainers, expedited removal processes, family detention, fugitive operations, juvenile issues, repatriation initiatives, the 287(g) Program, and the Visa Waiver Program. EROLD also houses OPLA’s regulatory program and provides significant litigation support to DOJ for federal court matters impacting ICE equities with regard to arrest, detention, and removal authorities. EROLD also plays an essential role in the review of claims to U.S. citizenship raised by individuals in ICE custody or otherwise targeted by ICE for enforcement action.

Homeland Security Investigations Law Division

Through specialized legal advice, training, and litigation support, HSILD advances ICE’s efforts to investigate, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist, transnational, and other criminal organizations that threaten our borders or seek to exploit the customs and immigration laws of the United States. HSILD provides customs law, criminal law, and criminal immigration law advice to the ICE Director, HSI, and Office of Professional Responsibility on a wide range matters related to the movement of people and goods into, within, and out of the United States. This includes providing timely legal advice on matters pertaining to financial crimes, asset forfeiture, the repatriation of cultural property, confidential informants and undercover operations, customs fraud, intellectual property rights, cybercrime, child exploitation, export enforcement, identity and benefit fraud, contraband smuggling, gangs, HSI special activities, task force officer issues, international law enforcement cooperation, search and seizure, and worksite enforcement. Working in close partnership with HSI Headquarters, HSILD interprets and defends HSI’s many unique authorities; reviews national policies, novel issues, and matters of national importance; drafts proposed legislation; liaises with other law enforcement agencies; and provides advanced training to HSI special agents. HSILD provides direct support to ICE law enforcement personnel and ensures consistent nationwide legal and operational advice on these matters through coordination with OPLA’s HSI-embedded attorneys.

Human Rights Violator Law Division

Through specialized legal advice, training, and litigation support, HRVLD advances ICE’s efforts to investigate and prosecute those who violate our human rights laws while seeking to preserve the rights of federal victims of crime. HRVLD, through its attorneys and historians, furthers accountability for human rights violators and war criminals, human traffickers, and human smugglers. To fight against impunity, HRVLD works with the victims and witnesses, while also seeking to ensure they receive necessary federal assistance and protections. With interagency partners at the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit and OPLA attorneys pursue the criminal prosecution, denaturalization, and ultimately the removal of individuals seeking U.S. immigration benefits who have been involved in human rights violations or war crimes. HRVLD also works to prevent human rights abusers and war criminals from gaining a safe haven in the United States. HRVLD supports HSI as it conducts thousands of criminal investigations against human smugglers who engage in particularly egregious activities which endanger human life, and human traffickers who compel their victims into work or prostitution. HRVLD supports the HSI Victim Assistance Program and OPLA attorneys litigating cases involving aliens who have applied for victim-based immigration benefits (T and U nonimmigrant status, and protections under the Violence Against Women Act). HRVLD also supports ICE’s work on S visas, Significant Public Benefit Parole, Pro Forma Visas, and the Witness Security Program.

Immigration Law and Practice Division

ILPD promotes integrity in immigration law by zealously advocating on ICE’s behalf in appellate proceedings before the Board and the Attorney General, ensuring consistency in OPLA’s litigating positions before the nation’s immigration courts, guiding the development of federal court decisional law, and providing expert counsel on issues of substantive immigration law and protection law matters. As the agency’s appellate counsel, ILPD reviews ICE appeals filed with the Board, represents the agency in briefing before the Attorney General and in oral arguments and supplemental briefing before the Board, and coordinates closely with DOJ and DHS Office of the General Counsel Headquarters (OGC HQ) in deciding whether to pursue further review of adverse federal court immigration decisions. ILPD also provides guidance to OPLA field locations, agency leadership, DHS OGC HQ, and various DOJ components on a wide range of substantive immigration law issues, including, but not limited to, criminal grounds of removability, bond proceedings, and extradition. ILPD attorneys also provide specialized legal advice on matters involving refugees, asylum, withholding of removal, protection under the Convention Against Torture regulations, and Temporary Protected Status, and advance OPLA’s efforts to combat protection law-related fraud perpetrated by applicants and preparers.

National Security Law Division

Through specialized legal advice, training, and litigation support, NSLD advances ICE’s efforts to investigate, prosecute, and remove those who threaten our national security. NSLD provides national oversight and litigation support for OPLA’s litigation of national security cases before the immigration courts, including the development of legal and policy positions and litigation strategy, and the approval of substantive national security charges. NSLD also delivers timely, accurate, and comprehensive legal advice to HSI and ERO on national security matters and serves as an integrator and facilitator with internal and external stakeholders. NSLD works with other DHS components; DOJ, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of State; the Central Intelligence Agency; and other members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities to support investigations and criminal prosecutions involving terrorists, foreign intelligence agents, and other national security threats. NSLD’s cases often involve individuals convicted of terrorism-related offenses or who have engaged in terrorist activity. NSLD provides specialized guidance, including through the review of administrative appeals, enforcement notices, and motions, and the provision of general legal and operational advice to the HSI Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which oversees the enforcement and administration of laws involving F and M nonimmigrant students. NSLD conducts specialized training for OPLA personnel and HSI nationwide.

General and Administrative Law

The General and Administrative Law attorneys and staff support a diverse portfolio of ICE-wide legal programs and OPLA-wide mission and program support. The General and Administrative Law component covers a broad legal portfolio and comprises several specialized divisions.

Commercial and Administrative Law Division

The Commercial and Administrative Law Division (CALD) attorneys provide legal services in the areas of debt collection (including immigration surety bond debts and worksite enforcement fines), procurement, fiscal law, administrative law and environmental law. They advise ICE operational components and represent ICE in litigation both in federal courts and before administrative bodies like the Government Accountability Office and the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals.

Government Information Law Division

The Government Information Law Division (GILD) attorneys advise all ICE program offices on matters relating to the disclosure of agency information, both within DHS and to external entities. Their work includes the legal review of international agreements, such as Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties, Customs Mutual Assistance Agreements and Letters of Intent with foreign governments. They also adjudicate administrative appeals under the Freedom of Information Act and help U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to defend information-related litigation filed against ICE.

ICE Ethics Office

The ICE Ethics Office provides advice, guidance and training on the ethical standards that apply to every ICE employee. Its attorneys establish, maintain and carry out the ICE ethics program, which includes collecting, reviewing and certifying financial disclosure reports, providing ethics advice on the standards of conduct and executing a robust employee ethics education program. The ICE Ethics Office also serves as ICE’s point of contact for attorney professional responsibility complaints, and it oversees the Administrative Inquiry and Management Referral program for attorney misconduct cases.

Labor and Employment Law Division

Labor and Employment Law Division (LELD) attorneys foster compliance with federal personnel law, represent the agency in employment and labor-related litigation, and provide advice and guidance to ICE supervisors and managers on a variety of topics relating to personnel management. LELD’s attorneys represent ICE in litigation before the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They work with the Department of Justice to defend ICE against federal lawsuits brought under Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. LELD trains ICE managers and supervisors on ways to ensure that ICE is a discrimination-free and harassment-free workplace where employees can succeed.

Mission Support Division

The Mission Support Division (MSD) team of support professionals delivers comprehensive, nationwide administrative services to advance OPLA’s operational mission. For instance, MSD coordinates budget formulation and budget execution for OPLA, which employs more than 1700 attorneys and support staff. It also procures goods and services, processes vendor and employee payments, and supports official travel. It manages OPLA’s hiring and oversees employee performance management. It is also responsible for tracking OPLA’s facility needs and its government property.

OPLA Field Legal Operations

Field Legal Operations (FLO), OPLA’s largest component, comprises a headquarters team and 25 OPLA field locations across the United States. The OPLA field locations are responsible for representing DHS in detained and non-detained removal cases before the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). FLO also supports OPLA’s full-service legal model with employment attorneys on location in the field and attorneys embedded with their local ICE HSI office.

Principal Legal Advisor

John D.
Principal Legal Advisor
John D. Trasviña is the Principal Legal Advisor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Mr. Trasviña has extensive experience in immigration law and policy matters. He is the former Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, where he established an immigration law clinic.
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Updated: 01/26/2021