Ronald Vitiello is the new acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Trump administration said, as President Donald Trump looks to fine tune his “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.
Vitiello is a career Border Patrol official who’s been serving since April 2017 as acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He’s being named the deputy director of ICE and also will serve as its acting director, Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement on Saturday.
It wasn’t clear from Nielsen’s statement if or when the administration would seek to confirm a permanent director to ICE. Vitiello succeeds Thomas Homan, who retired as acting director on Friday after a short but controversial tenure. Homan was nominated for the position in November, but his nomination was withdrawn in the spring without a Senate confirmation hearing. He announced in April he planned to retire.
Homan’s retirement comes as the administration faces an international backlash over a policy that has separated parents and children caught crossing the border without documentation, and reunite those families.
Trump, in a pair of Twitter messages on Saturday morning ahead of the announcement, accused Democrats of wanting to abolish the agency — a handful do, and want a new agency in its place — and following that, “all police,” and concluded, “Zero chance.”
Trump said he’d watched the agency “liberate towns from the grasp of” the street gang MS-13, without specifying which towns. “Do not worry or lose your spirit,” Trump told ICE agents.
“I am pleased that ICE will continue to be led by an experienced and well-respected career law enforcement officer who will be a strong advocate for the agency’s workforce,” Nielsen said in the statement, citing Vitiello’s more than 30 years of experience.
Nielsen praised Homan has having helped lift employee morale at the agency to its highest level since 2010.
The announcement came on a day thousands of protesters took to the streets in U.S. cities from Washington to San Francisco to oppose the Trump administration’s family separations at the border.
U.S. immigration laws “are the dumbest anywhere in the world,” Trump said Saturday on Twitter.
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