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Former acting ICE chief defends administration response to border crisis

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 20:16:13-04

Former acting Immigration and Customs Director Ron Vitiello defended President Donald Trump’s response to the influx of migrants at the southern border in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“The President’s done everything he’s got. He’s used all the tools,” Vitiello said Wednesday on “The Situation Room,” adding that Congress has to act. Vitiello also previously served as chief of the Border Patrol and acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

“This administration has done more to address this problem than any administration I’ve seen in my 34-year career,” Vitiello said, whose nomination to become permanent ICE director was abruptly withdrawn by Trump in April.

Vitiello said the supplemental funding recently provided by Congress will add capacity and give more resources to Customs and Border Protection for medical staff and additional tents, “so they have a more adequate place to process the people that they take into custody.”

Vitiello was nominated by Trump to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement last August and was on the cusp of Senate confirmation when his nomination was pulled. Trump said he wanted to go in a “tougher direction” — a move that came at the urging of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller.

“We’re going in a little different direction. Ron’s a good man but we’re going in a tougher direction. We want to go in a tougher direction,” Trump told reporters in April.

Vitiello said Wednesday that he chooses to focus on the President calling him a “good man.”

“I had a good run. I did everything I could to help protect this country and maintain the oath that I took in 1985,” he said.

Media and government reports of overcrowding and worsening conditions at border facilities, as well as misconduct by current and former Border Patrol agents, have drawn the ire of immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers.

On Monday, members of Congress decried conditions following visits to two Texas border facilities. A day after the lawmakers’ visit, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general released a report that found extreme overcrowding and children younger than 7 being held in custody for more than two weeks — far longer than the allowed 72 hours.

“When you are more than over 100% over capacity, you’ll have conditions that none of us will be proud of. Those are highly regulated facilities, and those facilities were designed to handle people in the booking procedures and nothing more,” Vitiello said.

He defended the President’s decision to suspend US aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador but said that “it’s important for us to continue a dialogue with those countries.”

In March, the administration announced it was cutting off aid, after the President claimed that the Northern Triangle countries had “set up” migrant caravans for entry into the United States.

“There has to be some leverage applied to the locations. It worked on the tariff threat with Mexico — let’s see what happens with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,” Vitiello said.