U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), tasked with protecting America from cross-border crime and illegal immigration, starts another year in a state of flux – thanks to a do-nothing Congress.
Tom Homan served as acting director of ICE for 17 months, but his nomination by President Donald Trump to officially lead the agency was never acted upon by the Senate. Ron Vitiello, former head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), was nominated to succeed the retiring Homan. But five months on, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hasn’t scheduled a vote on him either.
The ICE Leadership page lists Vitiello as “deputy director and senior official performing the duties of director.” (The page, as well as ICE’s administrative staff, is inactive due to the partial government shutdown caused in part by Congress’s refusal to fund a border wall.)
Meantime, Congress remains open for business (in a manner of speaking), and the Senate still has a constitutional charge to approve or reject the president’s nominees. It has done neither with ICE. Intended or not, such dereliction of duty enables and emboldens “Abolish ICE” extremists.
“As long as our nation has immigration laws, we need an agency to enforce them. Regardless of one’s views on immigration policy, all Americans interested in our government operating effectively should support ICE having a Senate-confirmed director,” says former CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.
ICE was created in 2003 through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the former U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Today, ICE has more than 20,000 law-enforcement and support personnel stationed at more than 400 offices across the country and around the world.
Amid the nation’s serious immigration challenges, the Senate must fulfill its advise-and-consent responsibilities by casting an up or down vote on ICE’s pending director.
“Even the most strident critics of ICE have an interest in the agency having a Senate-confirmed director. An ICE director who has been confirmed by the Senate can better be held accountable for the agency’s policies and performance,” Bonner asserts.
“By contrast, it is more difficult for Congress to conduct effective oversight of ICE or any agency with an acting leader who is uncertain about his or her longer-term status and tenure. Civil servants who loyally and professionally implement the policies of whomever the American people elect as president deserve a permanent Senate-confirmed director,” says Bonner, a confirmed former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.
Aristotle recognized centuries ago that “nature abhors a vacuum.” The same goes for society and its governing institutions. Congress’s political paralysis – not only on the ICE director, but on scores of other administrative and judicial nominations — creates a dysfunctional and potentially dangerous void.
By its dilatory tactics, Congress makes itself worse than irrelevant. America cannot afford inaction on Capitol Hill to hobble the essential work of ICE, which enforces more than 400 federal laws — not just on immigration, but on preventing identify theft, human and narcotics trafficking, money laundering and intellectual property violations.
“No American – even those committed to the most liberal immigration policies – should want these law-enforcement activities [compromised],” Bonner concludes.
If Mr. Vitiello — with more than 30 years of law enforcement service under Democratic and Republican administrations — is an unfit choice to lead ICE, lawmakers can state their case. They’ve been sitting on reams of requisite background reports for months. Do your job: Get on with the hearings and vote.