Ronald D. Vitiello, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, will have his first confirmation hearing on Thursday.
Vitiello, who’s served as the agency’s acting director for months, will stand before the Senate Homeland Security Committee Thursday to secure his position permanently.
The Washington Times reports that Vitiello—a controversial figure—has the backing of several Homeland Security officials. However, Vitiello’s nomination has sparked backlash from leaders of the National ICE Council, a federal union representing agency employees.
Fourteen Council leaders said they’re not sure whether Vitiello can end the “corrupt ‘good old boy’ network” they claim pervades ICE’s upper ranks.
“Our agency needs a real shake-up at the top and a new director who can bring changed,” said Felix Luciano, leader of Local 2805 in San Diego. “We never thought it could get this bad but the mismanagement, misconduct, and retaliation by our managers has gotten to a point where we had to speak out.”
Another concern shared by leaders like Luciano is Vitiello’s apparent and implicit criticism of President Trump. In March 2016, Vitiello tweeted a picture of Donald Trump juxtaposed with an image of Dennis the Menace.
“This I can tell you! 100%” Vitiello wrote.
That tweet, writes the Washington Times, has long since been deleted.
Union leaders say the lack of consequence for Vitiello is unusual and impermissible.
“Had any rank and file employee in the field at ICE committed a similar act, that employee would be subject to discipline or removal under the ICE Employee Code of Conduct,” Council officials said, damning the tweet as a “failure of leadership.”
The National ICE Council has also accused Vitiello of hampering union leaders, making it more difficult for them to serve as officers and represent their local chapters.
ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson says the leaders’ letter misses the mark and stressed that Vitiello has worked hard to build relationships among the agency’s rank-and-file officers.
“While many of the claims in the letter pre-date Mr. Vitiello’s arrival at ICE, in his first few months on the job, he has made it a priority to meet directly with front line personnel and listen to their concerns,” Johnson said. “If confirmed, he will be a strong advocate for the workforce and for proper oversight and management accountability.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen advocated for Vitiello’s nomination, too, calling him “an experienced and well-respected career law enforcement officer who will be a strong advocate for the agency’s workforce.”
Several Obama-era officials have spoken up in defense of Vitiello, too. R. Gil Kerlikowse, who acted as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner under the last president, praised Vitiello as “an extremely effective, honest, and dedicated public servant.”
Kerlikowske says that Vitiello spearheaded efforts to reduce the use-of-force in apprehending migrants and gave ICE its first internal affairs division.
“This may not have been possible without Mr. Vitiello’s leadership,” Kerlikowske wrote.
In remarks prepared and distributed before Thursday’s confirmation hearing, Vitiello stressed his dedication to ICE’s mission and assured would-be supporters of his commitment to public safety.
“If confirmed, one of my highest priorities will be to better demonstrate to the public, Congress, and the media the importance of our mission to homeland security and public safety—and why our agency’s existence should not be up for debate,” Vitiello said.
The Washington Post reports that Vitiello recounted how ICE has arrested 11,000 known or suspected gang members and deported nearly 6,000.
“These successes—and the dedicated men and women who achieved them—are too often drowned out or wrongly maligned by misleading rhetoric and misinformation in the public sphere,” Vitiello said.