Among the attendees was Ronald Vitiello, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On September 5, as highlighted by America’s Voice and promoted by FAIR, radio host Tom Roten interviewed Vitiello. Preceding Vitiello on Roten’s program were such hate group leaders as Ric Oberlink, executive director of anti-immigrant hate group Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), and Dale Wilcox, executive director of FAIR’s legal arm, Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). CAPS and IRLI are among a network of organizations associated with John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist and racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.
Vitiello, who was a border patrol agent for 33 years and served as Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a year and half before assuming the role heading up ICE, told Roten he is “hopeful” to become the permanent director and the “paperwork is in front of the Senate now.” Speaking about the family separation policy, a program that has received bipartisan condemnation, Vitiello shrugged off that “only 2,500 people were affected by that situation.”
In June, Vox reported Trump administration officials said “2,342 children have been separated from 2,206 parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9.” In a little more than a month, almost 5,000 people were directly affected. On August 31, the Washington Post reported almost 500 children remain separated from their families and in U.S. government-funded shelters.
Associating with hate groups seems to be a trend among Trump’s ICE directors. Former ICE Director Tom Homan was honored at ACT for America’s annual conference that took place in Washington, D.C., September 4 and 5. ACT for America is the largest anti-Muslim hate group in the nation. Homan’s award is part of ACT’s “Back the Blue” campaign in support of law enforcement.
The line between the anti-immigrant movement and the Trump administration continues to blur. Former employees of FAIR and IRLI have joined the highest levels of government in this administration. Ian Smith, a former employee of IRLI, resigned his position at the Department of Homeland Security after emails shared by The Atlantic appeared to tie him to white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor. John Zadrozny, who worked for FAIR, is now at the State Department following his stint at the Domestic Policy Council. Julie Kirchner, who served as FAIR’s executive director for 10 years, left the organization in 2015 to be an immigration adviser to the Trump campaign and is now the Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman.
Robert Law, a senior policy adviser to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), previously worked as a lobby director for FAIR. Kris Kobach, an immigration policy adviser on Trump’s transition team, acts as legal counsel to IRLI. Kobach spoke at a pro-ICE rally in Wichita, Kansas, on July 14 where he vowed to end in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
Vitiello concluded the interview by saying, “We’re grateful to be in a situation, you know, when I was at CBP and now at ICE, we have an administration that backs rule of law, that wants the country secure and wants the country protected and we’re happy to be a part of that.”
Vitiello’s appearance at FAIR’s gathering signals a growing alliance between the federal government and the anti-immigrant movement. Furthermore, it underscores the already blurred lines between the anti-immigrant movement and federal government.
Photo credit Yesica Uvina/U.S. Customs and Border Protection