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ICE Can Finally Get a Senate Confirmed Director After More Than Four Years Without One

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Ed Gonzalez, a Texas sheriff and chosen by President Biden to lead the embattled Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, faced questioning from Republican senators Thursday about why he ended a voluntary collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials, and if your past criticism of ICE makes you the right person for the job.

If confirmed, González would be the first agency director approved by the Senate in more than four years. As a sheriff for Harris County, where Houston is located, he presides over the third largest sheriff’s department in the country.

“I am concerned … whether it would be appropriate for you to lead an agency that you have been so critical of,” said Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the highest ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. , which held González’s confirmation hearing on Thursday. The panel also considered the nomination of Robert Santos as director of the Census Bureau.

González, whom Biden hopes to revitalize and refocus on ICE, guided lawmakers through their decision to withdraw from the program, known as 287 (g), which delegates some federal immigration enforcement authority to local law enforcement and state. The program expanded dramatically under the Trump administration, but Biden promised during his presidential campaign to put an end to all those agreements reached by his predecessor.

The sheriff explained that the decision came down to budget concerns and his office’s ability to work with a “diverse immigrant community.”

Gonzalez frequently appeared to seek a middle ground during the hearing, telling Portman, when pressed, that despite ending the show in Harris County, he does not intend to end such collaboration nationally.

“I also wanted to make sure that we remain focused on having the avenues necessary to arrest serious offenders in our community that impact our public safety,” he said.

In recent years, ICE has faced a number of challenges, including the erosion of officer morale, as well as public outcry over its policies and practices, which led to the popularization of the #AbolishICE movement among progressives.

González denounced a series of ICE raids in 2019 that targeted immigrants in the U.S. illegally, tweeting at the time when the vast majority “pose no threat to the US” In the tweet, he added that the focus of ICE raids “should always be on clear and immediate threats to security,” and that his sheriff’s department would not be involved in such broad efforts.

“Diverting valuable law enforcement resources from threats to public safety would drive undocumented families further into the shadows and harm the safety of our community,” González tweeted separately in July 2019. “Silence the witnesses and victims and the world further exacerbates the challenges facing #ICEraids law enforcement officials.”

While ICE is responsible for immigration enforcement within the U.S., many senators focused their questions on the border, where authorities made more arrests last month than any month in at least a decade. . CNN reported Wednesday.

ICE arrests and deportations have plummeted in recent months since Biden took office. In February, Biden issued temporary guidelines instructing ICE to narrow its focus and prioritize arresting people who were recently crossing the border and people who are considered threats to public safety.

In April, ICE deportations fell to the lowest monthly level on record,according to data obtained by the Washington Post – a point of concern for Senate Republicans when they questioned González about his plans to strengthen the agency’s operations.

While ICE arrests and deportations are declining, the number of people detained by ICE has increased since early 2021, with more than 27,000 people currently in ICE custody, compared to around 15,000 at the beginning of the year, according to the data. from the Clearinghouse for access to transactional records at Syracuse University. Just under 80% of immigrants detained by ICE have no criminal record. Many of the detainees recently crossed the border and were detained by border officials, then transferred to ICE custody. And with deportations decreased, others await more in custody.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), an immigration hardliner and one of former President Trump’s most vocal allies, repeatedly questioned Gonzalez about whether he supports the expulsion of immigrants who came to the United States illegally when they committed crimes, which that González claimed.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators on the committee focused their questions on allegations of abuse, including reports of forced sterilization of immigrants detained in a Georgia detention center that came to light last September.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) asked Gonzalez what policy changes he would consider following the allegations at the center, which the Biden administration recently announced it would close.

“I have heard stories of some of the inhumane treatment. And that would not be aligned with the vision I would have for ICE if confirmed, ”González responded, but did not offer any specific policy change.

California Democratic Senator Alex Padilla asked González what he thinks about ICE agents posing as local law enforcement officers when making immigration arrests, a controversial practice that according to civil rights groups such as the Union American Civil Liberties, is unconstitutional because it violates the 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, but which the agency maintains is allowed in some circumstances.

González again avoided specifics, saying it’s important to make sure ICE is not “unnecessarily scaring” or “terrorizing communities” in its operations.

His responses drew criticism from the ACLU, which the group called “deeply disappointing” in a statement Thursday.

The ACLU criticized what it called González’s “lack of commitment” to ending nationwide collaboration agreements between ICE and local law enforcement.

“González seemed more interested in placating the anti-immigrant politicians on the committee than in presenting a vision for reform,” the ACLU said. “This was a great missed opportunity to make clear to immigrant families and communities that the Biden administration is truly committed to making a decisive break with the racist and anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration.”

Representatives for ICE, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the AFGE’s National ICE Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the abuse and criticism reported by ICE to the agency.

Throughout the hearing, Republican lawmakers repeatedly returned to the relationship between ICE and local law enforcement, in what may be proof of González’s potential to become the first Senate-approved ICE director since the Obama administration. .

“Do you think you will be able to create a relationship where the police will want to work with ICE in the future?” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) Asked Gonzalez, asking how Gonzalez plans to measure the agency’s success.

Developing relationships with local communities would be a marker of success, González said, adding that “ICE’s work can be difficult to understand and it is important for us to get involved with the community.”

“We are a nation of immigrants,” he added. “We are a generous country and we should be. But we also have to have immigration laws that can be enforced. “

Times writer Molly O’Toole contributed to this report.

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