Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) likened immigration enforcement agency ICE to the Ku Klux Klan at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to confirm President Trump's nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Harris grilled Ronald Vitiello, the acting director of ICE, if he is aware of the "perception" of similarities between ICE and the KKK. The Senator later asked Vitiello how he could run a government agency and be unaware of how it is "perceived" by "certain communities."
After a brief history lesson on the tactics of the Klan, Harris grilled the acting director of ICE on his ability to notice the "perception" of the agency he is charged to run.
"Are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and the discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the laws? And do you see any parallels?" Harris asked.
"I do not see any parallels between sworn officers and agents," Vitiello responded.
"I do not see a parallel between what is constitutionally mandated as it relates to enforcing the law," he said after a back and forth with the Senator.
"I see no perception that puts ICE in the same category as the KKK. Is that what you’re asking me?" Vitiello eventually said after the Senator repeatedly asked him to acknowledge similarities between the KKK and ICE.
"Sir, how can you be the head of an agency and be unaware of how your agency is perceived by certain communities?" Harris demanded.
"I do not see a parallel between the power and the authority that ICE has to do its job and the agents and officers who do it professionally and excellently with lots of compassion," Vitiello said. "There’s a lot of perceptions in the media and in the public that are incorrect about the agency and what it does."
Harris also lashed out at Vitiello for interrupting her. From their exchange at Thursday's Senate hearing:
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I’d like to emphasize your point. This is a hearing to determine who will be the next head of ICE, so this is about reviewing the perspectives, the qualifications, and the experience of the nominee. So, that being said, I think, Mr. Vitellio [sic], that you would agr- -- have I pronounced your name correctly?
RONALD VITIELLO: Vitiello [pronounced “Vitello”].
VITIELLO: Thank you.
HARRIS: I think you would agree as a member of law enforcement that law enforcement generally speaking —and certainly it would be the case with ICE officers and agents — that a great deal of your power is discretionary. You have limited resources and you make decisions about what you’re gonna do, but you exercise a great deal of discretion in terms of how you are going to use the limited resources and how you are gonna prioritize them.
And then, understanding that, I think you would also agree that one’s perspective and their bias, if they have bias, will influence their exercise of discretion in terms of the power they have and how it will be used and implemented. So I want to return to the question that Senator Peters asked you about the statement you made describing the Democratic Party as “liberalcratic” or “NeoKlanist,” which was -- I think the assumption there was that you were comparing it to the Klu, Ku Klux Klan -- Klu [sic] Klux Klan, the KKK. So, you said in response to his question, you’re sorry because the words caused offense. So, would you not be sorry if no one was offended by your words?
VITIELLO: No, it was wrong to do.
HARRIS: Why was it wrong?
VITIELLO: Because those are offensive words.
HARRIS: Why are they offensive?
VITIELLO: Because they have history in this country and, and -- I, I honestly didn’t mean it that way.
HARRIS: But please talk about the history. What is the history that would then make those words wrong?
VITIELLO: Well, the Klan was what we would call today a domestic terrorist group.
HARRIS: Why? Why would we call them “domestic terrorist group” [sic]?
VITIELLO: ‘Cause they tried to use fear and force to change political environment [sic].
HARRIS: And what was the motivation for the use of fear and force?
VITIELLO: It was based on race and ethnicity.
HARRIS: Right. Are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and the discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the laws? And do you see any parallels?
VITIELLO: I do not see any parallels between sworn officers and agents-
HARRIS: [interrupting] I’m talking about perception. I’m talking about perception.
VITIELLO: I do not see a parallel between what is constitutionally mandated as it relates to enforcing the law-
HARRIS: [talking over Vitiello] Are you aware that there’s a perception -- are you aware that there’s a perception-
VITIELLO: I see no perception that puts ICE in the same category as the KKK. Is that what you’re asking me?
HARRIS: No, I’m very specific about what I’m asking you. Are you aware of a perception that the way that the discretion-
VITIELLO: [interrupting] I see no parallel.
HARRIS: I’m not finished.
VITIELLO: I see none.
HARRIS: I’m not finished. I’m not finished. Are you aware that there’s a perception that ICE is administering its power in a way that is causing fear and intimidation, particularly among immigrants and specifically among immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America? Are you aware of that perception?
VITIELLO: I do not see a parallel between the power and the authority that ICE has to do its job and the agents and officers who do it professionally and excellently with lots of compassion-
HARRIS: [interrupting] Sir, how can you be the head of an agency and be unaware of how your agency is perceived by certain communities?
VITIELLO: There’s a lot of perceptions in the media and in the public that are incorrect about the agency and what it does-
HARRIS: [interrupting] But the perception exists, would you agree, whether or not it’s correct? And wouldn’t you agree then that if that perception exists, there might need to be some work done to correct the perception?
VITIELLO: I do want to advocate for the workforce that the vital public safety mission that they have to protect the homeland [sic], and I think more people need to know how valuable they are to the society, so I agree with you on that.