Mary Hogan is the affable new face of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Minnesota, bent on engaging the very immigrants and advocates who fear and disparage her agency.
Hogan joined ICE's St. Paul office last fall as a community relations officer — part of a new initiative at the time to ramp up outreach by a federal agency long averse to explaining itself. Then, Donald Trump got elected president, vowing tougher immigration enforcement.
As anxiety among local immigrants rose along with an uptick in ICE arrests, Hogan redoubled efforts to set the record straight about how her agency does business. She has listened to tearful relatives of men facing deportation and assured superintendents that schools are still generally off-limits for immigration agents. Her argument: If you object to the country's tangled immigration laws, your quarrel shouldn't be with agents sworn to uphold them.
"We've all gotten too comfortable vilifying ICE as an agency for doing what it's been sworn to do," Hogan said.
Some local advocates give Hogan high marks as an attentive listener who follows up with answers — even as they remain wary of her agency and its direction under the new administration.
"I see her being super stressed at the end of the day — or else she has super thick skin," said Felipe Illescas, an advocate with the group Mesa Latina.
Hogan was hired in September after then-ICE Director Sarah Saldaña announced she was bringing on more than two dozen new liaisons to better connect "big, bad ICE" with local law enforcement, schools, lawmakers and, yes, immigrant communities and their advocates.
Hogan had spent almost two decades as a victim and witness coordinator at a Wisconsin county attorney's office. At her new job, she has met with clergy, immigration attorneys, elected officials and a Somali-American radio station manager interested in having her on air. She often speaks about what ICE does besides deportations, such as busting international sex-trafficking rings.
A U.S. Army veteran, she brings to her role a warm presence and a flair for self-deprecation. "I am an old woman with white hair; I am not coming to get you," she told one community leader who predicted immigrants would be too nervous to show up for a meeting with an ICE staffer.
Michele McKenzie at the nonprofit Advocates for Human Rights appreciates that Hogan agreed to hold a regular meeting with advocacy groups.
Illescas met with Hogan after February ICE arrests in Apple Valley and Burnsville. Hogan assured him the agency had in fact arrested nine people — despite rumors many more had been rounded up.
"She is extremely nice," said Illescas. "My goal is to let her know that people are watching."
Hogan says dispelling misconceptions about her agency's work is key. She told clergy who'd heard ICE agents were checking papers on the light-rail lines that those were actually air marshals accompanying Metro Transit officers.
Hogan reached out to the Rev. Kevin McDonough at Incarnation Church after he sent a mass e-mail decrying "a hateful act of spiteful law enforcement," saying ICE had descended on a Minneapolis day care and rounded up parents. (ICE had arrested one man about to drop off a child at an unmarked home day care.) McDonough described his conversation with Hogan as a "positive experience," which inspired a plan to host a meeting with church members.
"I am a fed who picks up the phone," Hogan said.
Hogan insists immigration enforcement hasn't changed dramatically since Trump took office. ICE agents are still setting out to arrest specific people, not to set up checkpoints or "run around willy-nilly saying, 'Whose day can we ruin?' " What's new, she says, is a ratcheting up of the rhetoric — though she praises local advocates for their measured tone.
"I have never in my life encountered the hatred, the bitterness and the anger directed at this agency anywhere I've worked," Hogan said. "And I used to work at a prison."
Local advocates argue that heightened anxiety in immigrant communities is not misplaced. According to ICE data, immigration arrests nationally are up under the new administration's broader deportation priorities — especially of people without criminal convictions.
They say it is refreshing to feel heard by the agency. But some say they've found themselves chafing at Hogan's key role: to listen, rather than speak at length for the agency.
Hogan listened last winter after relatives and supporters of eight Minnesota men of Cambodian descent — permanent residents since childhood who faced deportation because of criminal convictions — gathered in front of ICE headquarters and asked her to step outside. Hogan stood as family members read from handmade cards about spending the Christmas holidays without the men. Vichet Chhuon, a supporter of the men, said for distraught relatives, Hogan's mostly silent presence was only so comforting.
"I almost empathized with her," he said. "Hers is an impossible job to do if you are a person of conscience."
Hogan says her task is explaining how the agency works, not commenting on specific cases: "I wasn't about to stand there and tell somebody whose loved one is about to be removed that they are wrong to be upset."
ICE recently expanded Hogan's role to serve as the local point person for the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, office, launched in April. Immigrant advocates like McKenzie have argued the new office, which will issue quarterly reports on the effects of immigrant crime, is a political stunt meant to magnify a connection between immigrants and crime.
Hogan disagrees. In her previous job with crime victims, Hogan recalls struggling to find answers for a victim who wanted to know if the man convicted of stealing her identity was deported. She says the new office will make it easier for victims to get information.
This new role does not make her any less of an ambassador for the agency, she says. During a recent meeting at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, officials asked Hogan how they can prepare Catholic school administrators for her appearance at a December conference.
"Putting a face on the agency is huge," said Hogan. "Maybe don't say ICE is coming. Say the community relations officer with ICE is coming."