WASHINGTON — Ronald D. Vitiello, a senior Border Patrol official, will serve as acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the Trump administration announced on Saturday, in a move that comes amid calls by some activists and politicians for the agency to be abolished.
Mr. Vitiello currently serves as the acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, and previously served as the chief of the Border Patrol.
He will replace Thomas D. Homan, the current acting head of ICE, who retired this month. The Senate must approve a full-time director for ICE, with Mr. Vitiello now viewed as the leading candidate.
“I am pleased that ICE will continue to be led by an experienced and well-respected career law enforcement officer who will be a strong advocate for the agency’s work force,” Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement announcing the appointment.
Mr. Vitiello’s elevation to lead the immigration agency comes at a critical juncture.
Numerous Democrats have called for abolishing the agency and protesters across the country have rallied in front of ICE regional offices and its national headquarters.
The agency has been criticized for the arrest of undocumented immigrants dropping their children off at school, and for detaining and deporting those who have been arrested for minor offenses.
The new leader of the agency must also deal with internal divisions.
About two weeks ago, 19 Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators wrote to the homeland security secretary seeking to dissolve the agency, concerned that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigrants had limited their ability to pursue national security threats, child pornography and transnational crime.
The special agents proposed creating a stand-alone investigations unit and another agency to handle immigration detention and deportation.