The new acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is starting his tenure with a trip to San Antonio, where he sat down with Newsradio 1200 WOAI's Michael Board in a wide ranging interview.
Ron Vitiello is taking the reins at a time when there's a national debate over the future of his agency. He says the "Abolish ICE" movement disregards all the hard work the agents do to not only protect communities but also the migrants themselves from a corrupt smuggling operation that has little regard for human life.
"That sometimes that gets glossed over in the idea that we shouldn’t exist," he explains.
Vitiello has worked for more than three decades in the field of immigration enforcement, starting off with the Border Patrol in Laredo. He says, under President Donald Trump, morale has hit a high point.
The reason? He believes it's because the president is taking border security seriously, pointing to the end of the controversial "catch and release" program.
Under past presidents, Vitiello says there have been certain classes of immigrants who have been given special status. When families arrived at the border, they were allowed to be released. That, he believes, gives migrants and incentive to make the dangerous trek across Mexico.
He says "catch and release" causes migrants to risk death for the hope of asylum.
"The vast majority of them do not fall into that category, but yet they take the journey anyway with the idea that they may get some legal status."
That ends, he says, with migrants living in the shadows, in dangerous parts of the country, with little hope of making a living. He says, whenever the U.S. has ended "catch and release," there has been a decrease in illegal immigration. In his mind, that policy change does more than any border wall.
The "Abolish ICE" movement comes as the country struggles with how to handle refugees. The Trump Administration has been repeatedly criticized for separating families as they go through the asylum process.
Vitiello stressed that ICE is not anti-refugee. They want people to come here, but they want them to do it the right way.
"We're looking for a system that holds people in custody so they can see a judge, they can run through the due process course and if they are in fact refugees, then they're granted asylum."
PHOTO: MICHAEL BOARD