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UN Migration Agency Rejects Trump Pick for Director on Secret Ballot

Ken Isaacs, the U.S. candidate to head the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York on May 4, 2018. (Luiz Rampelotto/EuropaNewswire/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

The United Nations today rejected the Trump administration’s pick for the helm of the International Organization for Migration, which has been led by the U.S. since 1951.

Leadership of the billion-dollar agency now goes to Portugal, with António Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino winning the vote. Coming in second in the secret ballot was Laura Thompson of Costa Rica, who currently serves as deputy director of the IOM.

The American candidate was Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations at Samaritan’s Purse, the aid organization led by Franklin Graham. He previously served as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Tweets from Isaacs that had been highlighted since his Feb. 1 nomination stoked international opposition, leaving the usual shoo-in of an American in doubt.

Isaacs’ tweets have included declaring “#Islam is not peaceful” and tweeting about the 2017 London Bridge attack, “If you read the Quran, you will know ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.” He’s also said refugees were an asset because “refugees with other worldviews won’t be the same as other immigrants,” and said religious preferences should be shown in refugee treatment: “Refugees are 2 grps. Some may go back and some can’t return. Christians can never return. They must be 1st priority,” he tweeted.

Last year during Ramadan he tweeted that “Muslims fast, they also blast.” He also compared Islam to the Jim Jones cult.

Isaacs said after a February Washington Post report that he “deeply” regretted his comments. “I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM,” he said.

At a March briefing, Isaacs told reporters, “I have never shown discrimination against anybody or anything, period, other than if they need help. If they need help I always help them.”

He said he had “retweeted many things to stimulate conversation,” including conspiracy theories about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley tried to garner support for Isaacs, including by introducing him to other ambassadors. Last month, the White House issued a statement “strongly” in support of their pick, saying that with Isaacs in charge “we know that the IOM will use donor funding in the wisest and most efficient manner, allowing it to carry out its critical mission for as long as at-risk populations are on the move” and if elected “he will treat people fairly and equally and with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Vitorino, a former parliamentarian and European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs who left politics in 2005, has been president of the think tank Notre Europe since June 2011.

The IOM has more than 10,000 staff and over 400 offices in more than 150 countries. The U.S. contributes about half of its budget.