Biden Picks Texas Sheriff Who Faulted Trump as Chief of ICE

President Joe Biden plans to nominate Ed Gonzalez -- a Texas sheriff who vocally opposed the Donald Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their families -- to a key immigration post, the White House announced Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gonzalez would become head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency tasked with apprehending and deporting immigrants living illegally in the U.S. as well as investigating drug and human trafficking.

Gonzalez would take over ICE at a pivotal time for Biden, who is confronting a political and humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border as record numbers of migrants try to enter the country. More than 172,000 were caught in March alone, the most in roughly two decades, including a historic number of children and teens traveling alone.

Amid the influx, Biden has been racing to fill key immigration posts that Trump had left vacant or filled with acting official whom he said were easier to control. ICE has been without a confirmed director since Barack Obama’s presidency.

The lack of permanent leaders has made it more difficult to get rank-and-file officials on board with new immigration policies, and it forced Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to take on tasks typically handled by agency chiefs, according to former DHS officials.

Two weeks ago, Biden picked Tucson, Arizona, Police Chief Chris Magnus to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection and immigrant-rights activist and attorney Ur Jaddou as director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, along with several other DHS officials. Magnus and Jaddou must also be confirmed by the Senate.

Gonzalez, a Democrat, was elected in 2016 as sheriff of Harris County, which is Texas’s most populous and includes Houston. He ended cooperation with a federal program that trains state and local law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of people in custody and turn them over for deportation. The voluntary ICE program -- known as 287(g) -- was scaled back during the Obama administration, but Trump officials encouraged its use.

In 2018, Gonzalez criticized the Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy against illegal border crossings that resulted in authorities taking children from their parents.

“Separating families who arrive at our border harms children and is an affront to American values,” Gonzalez tweeted in June 2018. “Children should not be in immigration detention.”

The Biden administration in February adopted new guidelines to narrow its enforcement focus to immigrants who pose a national security or public safety risk -- a shift from Trump’s more aggressive approach. ICE has also stopped using words such as “alien” in officials communications and rescinded civil financial penalties to non-citizens who fail to leave the U.S., arguing they are ineffective.

Mayorkas has also announced an internal review into “the threat of domestic violent extremism inside the Department of Homeland Security.” The move came after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, in which dozens of former military and law enforcement officials were said to have been involved.

It isn’t clear how much opposition Gonzalez will face in Senate confirmation hearings. Republicans may focus on his opposition to Trump policies, while some liberal Democrats and immigrant-rights activists have called for the abolishment of ICE.

Gonzalez has had a lengthy career in law enforcement, starting as a civilian employee at Houston Police Department before becoming an officer and later a sergeant. He served on the department’s hostage negotiation team and as a homicide investigator.

Gonzalez retired from the department in 2009 after 18 years and served three terms on the Houston City Council, eventually rising to become mayor pro tempore in 2012. A Houston native, Gonzalez earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Houston-Downtown and a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.