Trump’s decision to drop ICE nominee befuddles lawmakers, Homeland Security officials
President Donald Trump surprised Homeland Security staff and lawmakers Friday when he announced that he is dropping his own nominee to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency from consideration.
Trump told reporters that he is seeking someone “tougher” than Ronald Vitiello, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent and deputy director and acting director of ICE, to head the agency. The announcement was made as the president was embarking on a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, California. Vitiello was supposed to join Trump on the trip, but he was uninvited at the last minute, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s decision came as a shock to officials at the Department of Homeland Security, who assumed the White House had made a clerical mistake. Lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Post were also dumbfounded by Trump’s decision.
“Yeah, I don’t know what happened,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. “I thought we had addressed what issues we had in our committee, and he got bipartisan support in our committee.”
The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a union representing more than 7,000 agents, opposed Vitiello nomination, citing his social media posts during the 2016 presidential campaign in which he compared Trump to Dennis the Menace and compared Democrats to the Ku Klux Klan. Vitiello later apologized and said he intended the posts as jokes.
The news follows a week of repeated threats by Trump to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, amid increases in border crossings. At a press conference in Calexico on Friday, Trump said the United States cannot accept any more migrants, claiming that some of the individuals seeking asylum are gang members. (In fact, research has shown that most asylum seekers are not only fleeing unprecedented levels of violence in their home countries, they also risk facing violence during their journey to the United States.)
“The system is full. Can’t take anymore. Sorry folks,” he said. “Asylum? You know, I look at some of these asylum people — they’re gang members, they’re not afraid of anything. They have lawyers greeting them … they say, ‘I fear for my life.’ They’re the ones that are causing fear for life. It’s a scam.”
President Trump: "The system is full. Can’t take you anymore. Sorry folks."
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 5, 2019
Trump’s announcement on Friday is the latest administrative shake-up during a presidency that has seen an unprecedented amount of turnover over the past two years.