March 14, 2014, - 9:00 am

EXCLUSIVE: CBP Deputy Thomas Winkowski to Head Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)

By Debbie Schlussel


** CORRECTION: This post original stated that Thomas Winkowski served as a Border Patrol agent. That was not accurate, and the post has been corrected. Thanks to all who pointed out this error. **

Meet Barack Obama’s new immigration non-enforcer. has exclusively learned that, today, Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson will name Thomas Winkowski to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency in charge of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws. Winkowski is currently Deputy Commissioner and acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Read his bio here.


In yet another sign that the Obama Administration has no intention to enforce our nation’s immigration laws with any degree of seriousness, Winkowski will only be named as “acting” chief of ICE for the next year, and will, therefore, not be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, this site has learned. (It is possible, however, that Obama will nominate Winkowski for the permanent position before the year ends.) ICE has gone through a series of “acting” chiefs, including, most recently, John Sandweg, a criminal defense attorney who represented drunk drivers, child molesters, wife beaters, terrorists, and killers and had zero law enforcement experience. He was universally hated by top ICE brass. has learned that Homeland Security Secretary Johnson has discussed and offered the top ICE job to a number of experienced law enforcement officials, but most did not want the thankless job, as it is filled with pitfalls and Barack Obama won’t let anyone really do the job effectively, since he does not desire serious immigration enforcement.

Some ICE agents are slightly relieved to know that, at last, they will be working under someone with law enforcement experience (though it is curious that no one from within ICE was chosen for the position). Winkowski reportedly joined Customs right out of college in 1978. And, sources say, he gets along well with Jim Dinkins, ICE’s Director of Homeland Security Investigations, who is a friend of mine and someone I respect a great deal.

But some outside of ICE who vigilantly watch borders issues are not so enthused with Winkowski, such as my friend, Andy Ramirez, a secure borders advocate, and founder and President of the Law Enforcement Officers Advocates Council.

If you know more about Winkowski, please comment below.

*** UPDATE: An astute career Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent friend of mine writes:

Just read you online on CBP Winkoswki to ICE. Good riddance! He is quite possibly the most inept SES [Senior Executive Status] at CBP. He is a legacy Customs Inspector with little or no Law enforcement experience. He’ll fit right in!

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39 Responses

While it is superficially refreshing that there’s finally someone at the helm who has prior experience I’m assured that Winkowski will hit the proverbial brick wall head-on if he attempts to implement any type of serious enforcement programs. Border Patrol, ICE, and most other Fed LEO agencies have sold their souls to the bureaucratic devil a long time ago. Couple that with the understanding that he’s in an “acting” position and that pretty much spells nothing will get done; business as usual.

As the old saying goes…”Same dog, different collar”

IceNoMore on March 14, 2014 at 9:34 am

Funny story: Neighbor of mine is a motor officer who recently pulled over an off duty ICE agent. The ICE guy flashed his badge and alluded to a “law enforcement courtesy”. My neighbor cited him anyway and later told me “ICE is not law enforcement”. Interesting how things change. He said 20-years ago that never would have happened with an INS or Customs agent.

#1 VATO on March 14, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Funnier story.

    ICE, working with local LEOs, pulled over a carload of “vatos” who claimed they were local homies who voted for obama in both elections.

    Though not (yet) documented as gang members, they were shackled, put on a plane to Texas, and deported via Brownsville. They weren’t seen throwing gang signs, though…they actually looked scared. Haven’t seen ’em since.

    The ICE agents and LEOs chuckled over the incident at a bar later.

    Read about it in the Mexican news, Vato. Orale!

    Tim Robbins on March 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      ICE has not yet EARNED the respect (generally speaking) from local law enforcement entities that (legacy) INS & US Customs once enjoyed. US Customs agents were brilliant at tracking money and INS Agents were specialists with all things immigration. Probably before your time., but there was a time when enforcement of immigration law was encouraged, expected and well tolerated by the public. Guess I am showing my age

      #1 VATO on March 14, 2014 at 3:46 pm

        Spoken like a true vato/former customs guy.

        Bad form, homie.

        Tim Robbins on March 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Here we go again! Once more: ins was a BS agency full of racist, cactus copulating, scorpion eating, shit-kicker wearing nuca-roja scumbags that never did criminal investigator work, unless a real LE agency, like U.S. Customs, needed someone detained. Today everyone at ICE calls themselves an agent, and they may be, however, a BP agent is not the same as a special agent/criminal investigator; and the GS-13 special agent is just a pay grade since Customs merged with ins, it doesn’t designate a level of competency that was earned. Do you see a track record here since the merger? ICE/HSI is nothing, full of Clowns at all levels that don’t know shit from shinola, comfortably sitting at their climate controlled offices or cubicles, afraid to hit the streets because A. the supervisors are wondering where you are, and B. “they” might think you’re a “cop”. Actually CBP is much better off than HSI since they kept most of their Customs authority and took over the air wing, you know the Lima units that were constantly being used by Customs in surveillance. So this new guy is a much better fit than a JaNo.

      M.F. Jones on March 14, 2014 at 6:32 pm

        MF-you’re pretty ignorant. You don’t like the agency, there’s plenty of others out there. And don’t give some b.s. line that you’re “Customs for Life”. If it weren’t for POE seizures half of the USCS guys would have no collars at all. And this ain’t about INS over Customs, because the same applies to former INS agents. Very few of you are smart enough to carry out a long term investigation. You’re so Billy Bad-Ass Inspector Gadget, go update your resume and join an agency that actually investigates something and stop hanging around the message boards like a whiney child.

        Unsecure Homeland on March 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

        MF Jones is a typical Customs wannbe. In fact legacy USCS employees are responsible for the end of immigration law enforcement in the U.S. without any increase in customs enforcement, except for bitching themselves out to the NFL and MLB for snatching up small time sellers of counterfeit merchandice near stadiums and poaching on DEA cases. Operation Greenback was a long time ago and HSI couldn’t run such an operation now.

        Federale (@Federale86) on March 17, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    As a proud HSI Agent (we don’t use ICE anymore), your neighbor is highly unprofessional for making such a jackass comment as “ICE is not real law enforcement”. If he wants to issue the ticket that is his prerogative, though I would never written someone with a badge when I was on the road, we do in fact risk our lives just like he does and he can tell the family of the child we saved from continued sexual exploitation that we’re not real law enforcement while he was ticketing someone for 56 in a 45. Or better yet, tell Jaime Zapata’s family that he wasn’t real law enforcement when he was gunned down by the cartel in Mexico.

    FedUp on March 15, 2014 at 12:30 pm

While head of the Office of Field Operations Winkowski effectively managed the purge of legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (legacy INS) employees from CBP. Legacy INS managers and experienced employees were either shuffled off to do nothing jobs or forced to take legacy U.S. Customs Service type positions. The effect was to end immigration enforcement at Ports-of-Entry. Few CBP officers remain who have any experience or success at intercepting illegal aliens, espeically those with counterfeit documents. Winkowski also imposed strick time limits on inspections of aliens, which limited or prohibited secondary referrals and secondary inspections of fraudulent applications for admission by aliens. CBP management at POEs prefer to admit illegal aliens with fraudulent documents or who are living illegally in the U.S. than take the time and effort to uncover their fraud.

Federale (@Federale86) on March 14, 2014 at 11:46 am

So, we’re saddled with losers who epitomize the Peter Principle?


Jack on March 14, 2014 at 11:57 am

Nice , Jack…youre dating yourself, what was PP ?…people reaching their level of incompetence ?…thanks for the recall, how true that principle has become

HK on March 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Cream isn’t the only thing that floats to the top.

    Pray Hard on March 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      Nice one PH!
      Kinda reminds me of that little story of why the ass-hole is always in charge.
      I can see why most law enforcement officials (with some self-respect) didn’t want this job. First they neuter you than put a prod to your ass to do their bidding. No fun.

      theShadow on March 14, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Look at it this way: Could he be any worse than John Morton?

Seek on March 14, 2014 at 3:43 pm

SSDD again, huh?

Mow my grass.

Pray Hard on March 14, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Winkowski was never a Border Patrol Agent. He was a career Customs Inspector. This means he knows absolutely nothing except how to find very small, meaningless amounts of narcotics with the help of drug-sniffing dogs and x-ray equipment and collect duty. He is hostile, rude, unprofessional, inept and certainly should not be considered law enforcement. Good riddance.

lafumadora on March 14, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Anything goes after FLEOA set the precedent by supporting the nomination of Julie Myers for director of ICE. She didn’t have the credentials, much less the experience to be Chief of Police of the Shawnee, Kansas, Police Department, but Art Gordon loved the idea of her running ICE. For no other reason than she agreed to regularly meet with FLEOA. Big whup. Once that bar was set, any swinging Richard qualifies to be Director of ICE. So ICE agents, you can thank FLEOA for what you have. Yep, they’ve got your back.

? on March 14, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Hey Debbie, Great Column. Allow me to elaborate about Mr. Slimekowski. If there is one thing he is extremely adept at, according to my sources inside CBP, is the longstanding practice of “screw-up move-up” where employees who are willing to engage in sexual endeavors with managers get key promotions regardless of any other qualification. This goes back to the late 90s when the Miami Herald published a series of stories on this very thing, which was covered up by the Customs Commish Ray Kelly, who is the NYPD Commissioner today. I understand that Tom got his promotions by going along to get along just as his CBP predecessors Jayson Ahern and David Aguilar did. If I can refer you back to the June 27, 2013 hearing by the Chaffetz Oversight Subcommittee, there is no way Slimekowski was not in on the order to Fisher, Murphy, & Chaffetz to lie to Congress given he was the Acting CBP Commissioner. The purpose of their lying was to ensure nothing they testified about jeopardized the Gang of 8’s Amnesty Bill S-744. The degradation of Customs from a solid outfit to Walmart-like POE greeters and the infamous slogan promoted to CBPO’s “We are customer service, not law enforcement” happened under the willing top level leadership and watch of Jayson Ahern & Tom Winkowski. That should be very chilling to anyone expecting ICE to improve under TW. If he gets the post in the long-term, expect even less out of ICE than we’ve ever seen. In summary, this appointment is a victory for open borders and amnesty by non-enforcement supporters… Andy Ramirez, Law Enforcement Officers Advocates Council

Andy Ramirez on March 14, 2014 at 9:16 pm

He has a high opinion of himself, and perhaps the only one to opine as such.

MF’er – and here I thought you’d be happy with a legacy Customs employee leading ICE. So, now that would be the Director of ICE, Director of HSI, Deputy of HSI, both the Directors of Operations and Programs and 22 of 26 SACs – all legacy Customs.

Eleven years dude…it’s over. Legacy INS agents probably make up no more than 15% of the agency and have very little influence, nor did they ever. HSI does proportionately more Customs law investigations than Immigration than ever before. Blaming people who had little to no role in shaping the agency is silly.

BTW, the top three Customs centric investigations out of my office this past year were done by two legacy INS agents and one agent who’d only known ICE (on board since ’04). Seems to me most people have moved on.

I think the advantage to having an appointee like this one won’t be that he had a Customs or LEO background, but that he’s actually managed a huge organization, similar in scale to ICE. All of our permanent directors have been former prosecutors with relatively little experience managing organizations. I’ll wait and see, but no one I know who has dealt with him was overly impressed.

Bottom line, it could be worse…it could be MF.

please on March 14, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    “Similar in size to ICE..” ICE has approx 7000ish badge carrying gun/badge carriers, CBP has roughly 60000 Agents/Officers with guns and badges. ICE is a joke. “Prosecutorial discretion”. My ass.

    Mean Green on March 18, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Sleaze, You have a knack for always mentioning who’s in charge, but fail to identify what they are in charge of, a whole lot of clowns. You also fail to mention the results of all those investigations, by now the prosecution of those great cases should be over and are public record.

    The difference between THEN and NOW is that THEN you could get hired as a special agent with no experience but you got the experience working cases, especially if you wanted that GS-13. NOW you get hired with no experience, don’t get the experience, and the clowns don’t care if you get the experience, and you still get that GS-13, and expect that GS-14/15, after 5-6 years of showing up to the office kissing clown ass.

    How do you like them apples?

    MF Jones on March 19, 2014 at 11:25 am

It still doesn’t get any worse than Johnson as DHS head, imo. Having someone who (I believe) represented terrorists at Gitmo pro bono and makes comments nearly every day of how wonderful illegal aliens are as the HEAD OF HOMELAND SECURITY makes a complete and utter mockery of what the agency does, or is supposed to do, every day. Says a lot about B. Hussein Obama to nominate this guy.

The longer I live here, the more I see that Washington is a stage and everything that goes on is theater. Nothing here is serious.

Matt on March 14, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Debbie, please correct your post to show that he was Customs, not Border Patrol. @Matt, what point are you trying to make by using the President’s middle name vice his first name? Every time I see that, it seems to be an indication of something, but rather than guessing, I’ll ask you.

TheShadowKnows on March 15, 2014 at 2:21 am

Haven’t posted in a while, but thought this was worth the effort.

I know Tom from some of his field assignments, as well as his DC stint. Generally, I’ve had decent dealings with him, but I don’t see him as someone you’d be having a drink, cigar and shooting the s**t with after-hours.

His selection, even if in an acting capacity, is causing not an insignificant amount of angst at HSI in DC – there is a real concern that Winkowski is a career Customs / CBP guy, and that’s where his ultimate loyalty lies, not to his new “master” at ICE. I have it on good authority that there are rumblings amongst HSI senior managers that Winkowski may “give away the store” to CBP Field Ops and Border Patrol, effectively “pulling the rug” out from under HSI and long-term investigations, and no one wants to stick around for that nonsense. Many HSI senior and mid-level managers, as well as seasoned field agents, have sufficient time in to “pull the rip-cord” if things got silly enough, and any move by Winkowski to diminish HSI’s work – or worse, subordinate HSI to CBP – could cause a mass hemorrhaging of experienced agents that would cripple significant, long-term, complex investigations aimed at disrupting and dismantling criminal enterprises here and where they originate.

The other fear is that Winkowski is merely the “appetizer” and is really setting the table for his rumored successor, former CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin, who will happily eat HSI’s lunch and relegate agents to a basically do-nothing role as compared to OBP and OAM; I’ve seen Bersin in action in DC, and he’s a real “slick Willie” – a politically well-connected “muscle man” who knows what his vision is for the agency, and that doesn’t include a powerful HSI.

Much remains to be seen, but I, personally, think they could have done better in terms of bringing in a former 1811, who understands the challenges agents face in their work and their unique needs in terms of funding, equipment and manpower to support long-term, complex criminal investigations.

StillShakingMyHead on March 18, 2014 at 5:14 am

    Sorry, HSI does not run any complex criminal investiations. It does easy child porn cases, NFL and MLB counterfeiting cases, and runs a pr campaign for illegal alien prostitutes. That is all it does, aside from poaching marijuana grow operations from the DEA and local PDs and SOs. HSI is a joke and a CBP takeover would be a good idea. What is more likely to happen though is that CBP will get their own cadre of 1811s who will take all cases that originate from the Border Patrol or from Ports-of-Entry, which will reduce HSI’s caseload to almost nothing. HSI has been padding their caseloads and conviction stats with one-off smuggling cases for years. That is the only source of their convictions when they are chasing down fraudulent moving companies in New Jersey.

    Federale (@Federale86) on June 16, 2014 at 1:29 pm

As far as ICE being a law enforcement agency, I have to disagree. ICE is not really a law enforcement agency; it is more of an administrative/regulatory agency.

In regards to Winkowski having no LE experience because he was a Customs Inspector, so what? Leadership with little to no LE experience is the model for ICE. HSI has people in lead management positions that have little, or no, investigations experience. HSI is probably the only agency that you will encounter someone who is in their early thirties, who is out of the academy for a few years, and they are a senior level manager.

HSI has the lowest standards in the government for the 1811 jobs series (Criminal Investigator), and probably has some of the lowest standards in the country for law enforcement. To get a job as a special agent with HSI one does not even need a high school degree. Gang membership, bad credit, mental illness, the inability to speak/read/write English, etc., will not prevent a person from getting the job. HSI has no physical standards. It is not uncommon for HSI to hire people without as much as a personal interview. Does this sound like a law enforcement agency?

As an example, if you encounter an HSI special agent you might be presented with someone who is grossly overweight, with tattoos on their face/neck, purple or green hair, gold teeth, multiple ear piercings, or a pierced nose. This isn’t someone that works undercover. Does that sound like a law enforcement agency?

I have friends who work at the ICE academy, and they tell me that the head of the ICE academy has no law enforcement experience. Do you think that LAPD would put a person in charge of their academy that had no LE experience? No, because LAPD is a real LE agency.

Under Winkowski, CBP instituted very high standards for its CBP Officers. Applicants for the position are required to pass an entrance test (HSI has a test, which is a completely watered down Customs agent test, and it is not given to everyone across the board), an interview, a thorough background investigation, including a polygraph test, and pass a rigorous physical ability test. Their ideal candidates have college degrees and prior law enforcement or military experience.

Simply put, CBP has much higher standards than ICE for its law enforcement positions. So, can having Winkowski really be that bad?

As for Jaime Zapata’s family, last I read they were suing ICE, and one of their causes for action was that the training that Zapata had received was inadequate to allow him to function as a law enforcement officer. It doesn’t sound like the family thought ICE was a law enforcement agency either.

King David on March 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Good points by SSMH, we will have to see what Winkowski’s biases are and if he brings the sentiment from CBP that investigations should be a subordinate and serving element to inspections.

As to the last post by King David, I hope no one reading his tripe actually believes it. CBP hires are by and large those who could not get an 1811 gig, it is a far harder and longer road to get into HSI (or ANY 1811 job). No one ever said “Gee, I’m so qualified and skilled and have an offer from HSI, but I’d rather be an inspector.” No disrespect to the work or the people doing it, but please, get real.

I don’t know where you work, but in every hire I have seen at ICE OI/HSI since the 2003 merger, the selectee had a degree – and often was an outstanding scholar, former military, or other Federal or local law enforcement experience. My office has hired agents who were attorneys, class valedictorians, Secret Service Agents, former Special Forces, state troopers, IRS CI, ATF, multiple OIG’s, etc.

please on March 18, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    King David is correct, Customs I&C selection process for inspectors was very rigorous, Customs was very selective, and every selectee had to successfully complete training. And if an inspector wanted to apply for agent, a whole other selection process and training. There were no in-house transfers like in BS ins.

    Of course lawyers and such want to get hired by HSI, where else can you make $125K a year after 4-5 years, with no experience and none expected of you. HSI has become a social club during the day, with the biggest task is where to go for lunch. It has become like a Tollway Authority, self-perpetuating, bureaucratic, whose main function is keeping the agency running, no worries about law enforcement or criminal investigations. CBP took the air wing away, so how does HSI conduct surveillances? BS if you say the locals. When inspectors seized contraband and called the agents for investigation made no difference, the prosecutorial laws are the same.

    MF Jones on March 19, 2014 at 11:07 am

Debbie, please correct your post to show that he was Customs, not Border Patrol. @Matt, what point are you trying to make by using the President’s middle name vice his first name? Every time I see that, it seems to be an indication of something, but rather than guessing, I’ll ask you.

TheShadowKnows on March 15, 2014 at 2:21 am

What’s wrong with using B. Hussein Obama’s middle name? It IS his name isn’t it? It says more about you than it does about me that you have a problem with it. At any rate, it’s no worse than “Barack.”

Matt on March 18, 2014 at 10:52 pm

CBP has now received their marshmallow marching orders to retreat from rock throwers and run for cover…do not engage, do not effect self defense, and certainly don’t try to arrest. Doesn’t sound like a law enforcement agency either….

All this PC bulls**t put in place by political butt snorklers has decimated agencies to nothing.

IceNoMore on March 19, 2014 at 10:02 am

Putting Winkowski in charge of CBP and Kerlikowski in charge of ICE would have made much more sense. Winkowski came from CBP and, by Jeh Johnson’s own account, did a wonderful job as the intermin commissioner. Kerlikowski, on the other hand, had two significant stints running two large organizations (Buffalo and Seattle Police Departments), each with sizable investigative and detention elements. If I had to guess, the Border Patrol union wouldn’t give its approval for a Customs guy (Winkowski) becoming the permanent commissioner.

? on March 19, 2014 at 1:42 pm

All these guys in charge are just corrupt douchebags supporting the vagina Obama EB-5 alien smuggling conspiracy of which SAC Los Angeles was too afraid to investigate.



HSICOC on March 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm

And by the way, Zapata is dead because that fat douchebag down in Mexico ordered him out there to get killed. And so the agency promoted that douchebag to the worst SAC office in the country.

HSICOC on March 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Can someone tell me what a Principal Deputy Asst Secretary is? Seems like you would first need an Asst Sec. to require a Deputy. So friggin stupid. I’m not sure how were are from day to day.

Trevor on May 7, 2014 at 11:19 am

I work in HR. No, you dont need a bachelors degree or require a polygraph test to become a HSI Special Agent.

Franky on May 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm

You’re all wrong! What this CBP boils down to is non enforcement of.immigration laws in favor of illegal Mexicans at all costs by management. I was an INS inspector and later CBPO who saw this first hand. And if you tried to enforce the laws against a Mexican you were management for more forced overtime or to be possibly written up. Thug Mexicans were allowed to mistreat white officers when they cross the border and you just had to take it. appearances matter more than the substance of the truth or protection of law abiding Americans against the law breaking Mexican scum allowed to cross the border.

Stonehenge 1956 on January 20, 2015 at 2:42 am

I know him well, there were situations. but. what I do know what he did to establish the CES stations in the largest ports of the country; in which I did all possible to help; John Heinrich and him gave me congratulations for my help to stop the drug problem. Glad for his assigment and my friend. I can help Tom I still alive and will help.

Jesse Lopez on October 15, 2015 at 6:27 pm

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