Ronald Vitiello, President Trump’s nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), described the Democratic Party as “NeoKlanist,” and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) confronted him about his statement.
At Vitiello’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday, Harris questioned him on why he sent a tweet in 2015 likening Democrats to the Ku Klux Klan.
“You’re sorry because the words caused offense,” Harris said to Vitiello. “So would you not be sorry if no one was offended by your words”
“No, it was wrong to do,” he answered.
“Why was it wrong” Harris asked.
“Because those are offensive words,” Vitiello responded.
“Why are they offensive” she asked.
“Because they have history in this country. I honestly did not mean it in that way,” he said.
The senator then inquired whether or not he was aware of the KKK’s history in the country.
Vitiello said the KKK was a domestic terrorist group as “they tried to use fear and force to change political environment.”
Harris asked: “And what was the motivation for the use of fear and force”
“It was based on race and ethnicity,” Vitiello responded.
“Are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and the discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the laws” Harris asked. “And, do you see any parallels”
“I see no perception that puts ICE in the same category as the KKK,” Vitiello answered. “Is that what you’re asking me”
Harris said she was only specifically asking him about a perception of ICE that exists.
“Are you aware of the perception that ICE is administering its power in a way that is causing fear and intimation particularly among immigrants And specifically from immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America”
In response to critics saying Harris was comparing ICE to the KKK, her spokesperson said, “‘No, she was not,” and pointed to a moment from the hearing when Harris said “the vast majority of the men and women who work in the agency do a noble and good job,'” according to The Hill.
Vitiello is a career border control agent, starting with ICE in 1985. He has enjoyed a career filled with squashing the American dream for more than 2,500 immigrant families. Until June, he served as CBP’s acting deputy commissioner and the head of Border Patrol, a CBP agency. This past Thursday, he was appointed acting ICE director by Trump.
Vitiello is getting stiff opposition from Immigrant advocates and the Women’s Refugee Commission.
Director Michelle Brane recently tweeted, “This is the guy who managed CBP, the agents that separated kids from their parents, the agents who told parents they were taking their child to give them a bath, the agents who did not keep track of who they were separating.” She added, “Not qualified to run anything.”
Although Vitiello admitted he was surprised by the backlash generated by the family separation policy, he and the Trump Administration are planning to rollout another family separation policy that would force parents to choose between sending their kids to shelters or being detained together indefinitely.
This would serve as a loophole to avoid a court agreement that helps immigrant minors from being detained for more than 20 days.
When asked what he would do to avoid repeating the mistakes of the family separation crisis, his response was vague. He said officials should have been more communicative with the public about the process. No specifics or apology was given.
Vitiello is still awaiting confirmation from the Homeland Security Committee before going to the full Senate.
Reader Question: Do you agree with Sen. Harris’ questions to Ronald Vitiello