Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was centerstage in the nation’s capital Thursday for the committee hearing considering his nomination to be the Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- the official title for Director of ICE.
“There is a difficult and often thankless job,” Gonzalez told the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs. “But leading such a team would be the honor of a lifetime.”
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, whose jurisdiction includes the Houston metropolitan area, was nominated director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April. The agency has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since 2017. Gonzalez is a seasoned law enforcement official and sharply criticized Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies.
After his election in 2016, Gonzalez fulfilled a campaign promise to withdraw Harris County from a federal partnership that authorizes sheriff’s deputies to enforce immigration laws, ending an agreement that had been in place since 2008. Such agreements grew from 35 to 150 during Trump’s presidency, with many of those additions in Texas and Florida.
At the time of the withdrawal, Gonzalez said his decision was financially motivated. Deputies trained under the program needed to be reassigned to other law enforcement duties.
Gonzalez, who rose to sergeant during an 18-year run at the Houston Police Department, pointedly criticized Trump’s policies when the then-president vowed to deport millions of people.
“I do not support ICE raids that threaten to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom do not represent a threat to the U.S.,” he wrote on Facebook in July 2019. “The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats. Not others who are not threats.”
Gonzalez expressed concern then about driving “undocumented families further into the shadows,” discouraging them from reporting crimes to authorities.
The nomination was announced shortly after ICE said it was limiting arrests at courthouses, replacing a Trump policy that gave immigration authorities wider latitude.
If confirmed, Gonzalez would be the first Senate-confirmed ICE director in four years. It is a job with broad responsibilities from border enforcement -- to dealing with drug trafficking and human trafficking -- all issues facing whoever is appointed. Senators pressed Gonzalez about the potential for gangs to use teenagers to smuggle drugs across the southern border with Mexico.
“Isn’t that your experience as Houston’s sheriff,” asked Sen. Ron Joyhnson of Wisconsin.
“I’m always mindful of not profiling and developing any stereotypes in my work and so I try to look at the facts,” Gonzalez replied.
When John interjected and said he wasn’t speaking of profiling Gonzalez said, “I’m saying at the end of the day they’re still teenagers. I know that if they’re coming into our country they’re processed through CBP, there’s different screenings that are done.”
Gonzalez would lead a team of 20,000 agents and employees -- stretched perhaps like never before with the current southern border crisis. The sheriff said his experience with immigration as head of the nation’s third-largest sheriff’s office makes him an ideal candidate.
“I would use that experience, if confirmed, to be ICE director, to come in, listen, to try to understand the work, understand what’s working,” Gonzalez said. “And where we can make things better.”
KPRC 2 spoke to Precinct 2 County Commissioner Adrian Garcia -- former Harris County sheriff himself -- who would play a major role in appointing the replacement for Gonzalez should he be confirmed.
Garcia said right now Gonzalez still has the job and it’s too early to speculate about any possible replacement. He said they would start the process to find a replacement soon after a start date for Gonzalez would be proposed if he gets confirmed.
The Biden administration is expected to soon announce priorities and guidelines on who to deport.