U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a new acting director, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Saturday. Ronald D. Vitiello, who has been serving as the acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is now ICE's acting director and deputy director.
Vitiello replaces Thomas Homan, who announced in May he would be retiring and leaving his post. Vitiello's acting role officially began Saturday.
He takes over at a crucial time for the agency. ICE is under scrutiny as President Trump's "zero-tolerance" policies at the southern border have led to family separations, ultimately sparking nationwide protests Saturday. In recent weeks, a small number of Democrats have even called for ICE to be .
Vitiello has years of experience at the border. He became a border patrol agent in 1985, and has worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years.
"As U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Deputy Commissioner, Ron has more than 30 years of experience working in law enforcement and protecting our nation," Nielsen said in a statement. "Deputy Commissioner Vitiello brings to ICE the vision and leadership needed to continue the exceptional work the agency is doing to accomplish its crucial national security and public safety missions."
In her statement, Nielsen thanked Homan, who planned to retire when former President Barack Obama left office but decided to stay until Mr. Trump found a replacement.
"Acting Director Homan will be greatly missed in his well-earned (second) retirement," Nielsen said in her statement. "We wish Tom and his family all the best and know they will remain part of the DHS family."
On Saturday, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to praise the service of the men and women of ICE, and to blast Democrats suggesting the agency be eliminated. "The Democrats are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women that I have ever seen," Mr. Trump tweeted.
"To the great and brave men and women of ICE, do not worry or lose your spirit," he continued in another tweet. "You are doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe by eradicating the worst criminal elements."