Immigration and Customs Enforcement is one step closer to having a permanent director after a Senate panel voted 7-5 on Monday to move the nomination of Ron Vitiello to a floor vote.
Monday's vote came after two previous delays on his nomination, which had thrown into question whether he would be confirmed for the position.
In November, the Senate Homeland Security Committee delayed a vote on Vitiello's nomination to lead the nation's immigration enforcement agency amid criticism of personal tweets and the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" policy that led to the separation of undocumented migrant families at the US-Mexico border.
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan asked in Vitiello's confirmation hearing about a 2012 tweet in which Vitiello "suggested that the Democratic Party should be renamed the 'liberalcratic party' or the 'Neo-Klanist party.' "
Vitiello replied that "it was a mistake" and "he was trying to make a joke," adding that he had thought it was a direct message.
The head of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which represents ICE agents, Chris Crane, raised concerns about Vitiello's decision to prohibit union officials from performing agency duties and his management of protests at the ICE office in Portland, Oregon -- which began before Vitiello assumed his acting role -- along with his personal tweets.
At the time, Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said "serious issues" had been raised and needed to be answered.
"We are going to continue to do some due diligence. The unions have raised some serious issues which we're looking into and I think that's appropriate," he said.
After the new Congress came into office in January, another committee vote for Vitiello was scheduled in mid-February but subsequently postponed.
Johnson said the committee had decided to "hold over the ICE director nomination" because of continued issues, but would not elaborate.
In a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the committee, the union chief outlined a series of concerns, including accusations that Vitiello had prevented employees from performing their official duties. The union also said the ICE acting director's social media content was "unacceptable" and "shows a lack of sound judgment."
President Donald Trump nominated Vitiello, who's been leading ICE in an acting capacity since late June, to head the agency in August. Vitiello previously served as chief of the US Border Patrol and acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
The challenges the administration has faced in moving his nomination forward are not unique. According to John Sandweg, who served as the acting director of ICE under the Obama administration, it's a task that's becoming more difficult given the nature of what the agency does, including detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants in the US.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we started going into a period of time that it's difficult to confirm an ICE director, not because of the individual but what ICE does," Sandweg said.
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