President Trump’s move to dump his pick to lead ICE surprised lawmakers on Capitol Hill and some officials at the Department of Homeland Security, but it’s drawing glowing praise from a key group of employees who say the president’s decision showed courage.
The National ICE Council, the labor union that represents 6,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation officers, had tried to sink Ronald D. Vitiello’s nomination to be the agency’s director.
It appeared Mr. Vitiello was going to see Senate action, until Mr. Trump stepped in late last week and pulled the nomination, saying he wanted to go in a tougher direction. The decision caught many in Homeland Security by surprise — including, reportedly, Mr. Vitiello himself.
But the ICE Council said the president made the right call and “demonstrated integrity and a personal commitment to fixing problems within our failing federal agencies rarely if ever seen in the D.C. swamp.”
“When Ronald Vitiello clearly demonstrated an inability to effectively lead the agency, President Trump stepped in and made a change. That’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s leadership. That’s how Americans want their government to work,” the ICE Council said Monday.
ICE and Homeland Security declined to comment.
The National ICE Council’s glowing praise for Mr. Trump is particularly striking given that just weeks ago the organization had chided the president over the direction of immigration policy, saying catch-and-release had come roaring back.
“You frequently speak publicly of the great public safety work ICE is doing under your leadership. To be direct, Mr. President, the rhetoric doesn’t match reality and we hope that this letter shows you the complete and total nonsense that is really taking place under the Trump administration on the southern border,” leaders of the ICE Council said in a letter to the president last month.
In its statement Monday, though, the ICE Council said the president braved “anti-Trump” reporting and a Washington establishment that doesn’t understand the agency’s mission.
Not so Mr. Trump, said the ICE Council, which took pains to criticize some of the complainers — usually quoted anonymously — who blasted the president for withdrawing the nomination.
“For any person, on or off the record, to suggest that Mr. Vitiello is fit to run an agency such as ICE is ludicrous and evidence of the disconnect between D.C. political types and the American people,” the union said.
Mr. Vitiello had worked his way up through the ranks of the Border Patrol, which is part of a separate Homeland Security agency, Customs and Border Protection.
After Thomas D. Homan, Mr. Trump’s first acting director and first nominee to head ICE, withdrew and retired last year, the president moved Mr. Vitiello over as acting chief and nominated him for the position.
He was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month and had been poised to clear the Judiciary Committee this week, but Mr. Trump’s move derailed that.
Mr. Vitiello is still serving as acting director.
“While I will not become the permanent director of ICE, I look forward to working alongside you in serving the American public with integrity, courage and excellence,” he said in a letter to ICE employees.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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