On any given day, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal (ERO) immigration enforcement agent (IEA) or deportation officer (DO) can find himself or herself in Asia, Africa, Europe or anywhere else in the world while doing what they do best – upholding our nation’s immigration laws.
To the layman, world travel seems exotic, but to an IEA or DO, it means being away from family, their country and their home. It’s a sacrifice that takes a special kind of person – a person who works for something greater than himself or herself. It means missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other notable milestones.
If you ask a DO or IEA why they do it, they’ll tell you that they’re contributing to the United States' national security and public safety by removing those who pose a threat to society.
Just ask Supervisory IEA James R. Donaldson, who has been with ICE since its creation and has logged more than one million miles in air travel supporting the ERO mission. Yes, that’s right, one million miles. And that’s not on some lofty airline with lofty points.
Donaldson, who retired from the Navy after 30 years of service in the military police, began his federal career in immigration enforcement with the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) as a Border Patrol detention enforcement officer in Stockton, California. When asked why he joined, Donaldson said, “I always knew I wanted to serve in law enforcement.”
Donaldson currently supervises a team of seven IEAs in Mesa, Arizona. As part of their daily mission, Donaldson and his team support the removals of individuals coming from the 24 ERO offices around the country.
On average, his team flies 10 to 15 flights per week, with one to two flights daily going to Central America. The vast majority of those removed are individuals with criminal histories or wanted for crimes committed abroad.
His team also conducts long-range flights to remote cities thousands of miles away from the United States.
Donaldson, who has been married 29 years and has four grown kids, says one of his toughest missions was when he flew 27 hours straight stopping in Florida, Puerto Rico, Senegal, Gabon, Cameroon and Kenya. He said, “There is physical exhaustion on those flights, but you can’t sleep with criminals aboard your plane. It’s too dangerous.”
When asked what gives him the most satisfaction, he said, “Keeping my fellow countrymen safe.”