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Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA)

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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 one thousand attorneys.  Pursuant to statute, OPLA serves as the exclusive representative of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) litigating cases involving criminal aliens, terrorists, human rights abusers, and other priority aliens.

OPLA also provides a full range of legal services to all ICE programs and offices. OPLA provides legal advice and prudential counsel to ICE personnel on their law enforcement authorities, legal liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act, ethics, 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 Contract Board of Appeals. OPLA attorneys support the Department of Justice in the prosecution of ICE cases and in the defense of civil cases against the ICE.

In addition to Headquarters in Washington, D.C., OPLA has 26 Offices of Chief Counsel in more than sixty locations throughout the United States.

Chief of Staff

  • Executive Communications Unit
  • Headquarters Administrative Operations
  • Knowledge Management Division
  • Training and Development Division

Enforcement and Litigation

  • District Court Litigation Division
  • Enforcement and Removal Operations Law Division
    • Detention and Removal Law Section
    • Enforcement Law Section
  • Homeland Security Investigations Law Division
    • Criminal Law Section
    • Human Rights Law Section
    • National Security Law Section
  • Immigration Law Practice Division

Field Legal Operations

  • 26 Offices of the Chief Counsel overseen by the Director and Deputy Directors of Field Legal Operations

General Law

  • Commercial and Administrative Law Division
  • Government Information Law Division
  • ICE Ethics Office
  • Labor and Employment Law Division
  • Mission Support Division
Gwen Keyes Fleming, Principal Legal Advisor
Gwen Keyes Fleming
Principal Legal Advisor

Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming serves as the Principal Legal Advisor of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), overseeing the largest legal program in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In this role, she returns to her roots by managing a legal office comprised of nearly 1,000 attorneys and 350 administrative support specialists around the country who are charged with protecting national security and public safety before immigration courts. The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor also provides counsel to its diverse clientele of agents and officers who are responsible for the enforcement of over 400 criminal and customs laws and regulations.

Prior to joining ICE, Ms. Keyes Fleming served as Chief of Staff to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) beginning in June 2013 when she was appointed to this position by the President of the United States. In this capacity, she worked directly with the Administrator in overseeing the policy and management priorities of an Agency, with approximately 15,000 employees and a $8 billion budget that focused on protecting and conserving our air, water and land resources.

Ms. Keyes Fleming began her federal career when she was appointed by President Obama as Region 4 Regional Administrator of the EPA in September 2010, the first African-American to hold this position. During her tenure, the Region addressed several critical and complex regional challenges such as shepherding an agreement to protect the iconic Everglades. In addition, she led efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of work life for Region 4’s approximately 1,000 employees while effectively managing a budget of over $500 million. She also cemented Region 4’s commitment to providing environmental equity to formerly marginalized communities by finalizing the Region’s Environmental Justice Policy after nearly 10 years, instituting regular environmental justice information sessions with state partners, and empowering a cross-divisional Environmental Justice Steering Committee to strategically and comprehensively address community concerns.

Prior to her federal service, Ms. Keyes Fleming served her community on a local level. She took office as the DeKalb County (Georgia) District Attorney (DA) in January 2005. She made history as both the first African-American and the first woman ever to serve in this post. During her tenure, this office prosecuted approximately 11,000 felony cases annually. Ms. Keyes Fleming also managed and trained approximately 45 attorneys and more than 55 support personnel, and administered a $12 million budget. Prior to her election as DeKalb County DA, she served as the first African-American and first female Solicitor General.

Ms. Keyes Fleming is a New Jersey native and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Douglass College and she earned her law degree from the Emory University School of Law.