Acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Ron Vitiello resigned suddenly on Wednesday, the latest personnel change in President Trump’s massive shakeup of the Department of Homeland Security.
President Trump had nominated the veteran border authorities professional to take over ICE permanently but abruptly pulled his nomination last week, saying he was looking for a “tougher” replacement.
“Ron’s a good man, but we’re going in a tougher direction,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who also resigned over the weekend and is leaving Wednesday, said in a statement that Vitiello “has protected our homeland with courage and conviction” and has “left a legacy of excellence as our Department has expanded and refined our efforts to curb illegal immigration and secure our borders.”
His nomination for director of the agency was under consideration by a second Senate committee and afterwards would have progressed to a confirmation vote by the entire Senate.
Vitiello previously headed the U.S. Border Patrol and served over 30 years with Customs and Border Protection before working in ICE.
It was under his leadership last summer that U.S. border authorities adopted the controversial “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of thousands of children at the southern border, a practice that was criticized and rejected by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The restructuring of DHS comes as the number of illegal border crossings continues to skyrocket since the beginning of this year.
Apprehensions at the southern border spiked in March as a record number of families were intercepted crossing into the country. The number of individuals apprehended who crossed the border between ports of entry was 92,607 last month, including 8,975 unaccompanied children, over 25,000 more than in February.