President Biden is tapping a Houston-area sheriff to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), again turning to local law enforcement beyond the Beltway to lead a major agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Ed Gonzalez has served as sheriff for Harris County, which includes the Houston metro area, since 2017 and previously spent 18 years with the Houston Police Department and served three terms on the Houston City Council.

Gonzalez has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policy and in 2017 terminated the county’s 287(g) agreement with ICE, ending the practice of allowing local officers to carry out some immigration enforcement.

He will take over an agency that has been criticized for aggressive immigration enforcement and joins an administration that has stressed bringing dignity and humanity to the immigration system.

Gonzalez is the second local law enforcement officer Biden has turned to to fill out the ranks of DHS, nominating Tucson, Ariz., Police Chief Chris Magnus to lead Customs and Border Protection (CBP) earlier this month. Magnus had been a vocal critic of former President Trump’s immigration policies. 

Gonzalez has backed a number of police reform efforts, including reforming the bail system, limiting the costs of expensive self-care items in the local prison, supplying Vivitrol to those with opioid addiction, and kicking off a “cite and release” program for some misdemeanor offenses. 

He also declined to participate in a 2019 ICE raid, according to reporting by the Houston Chronicle, arguing it would “drive undocumented families further into the shadows.”

“It silences witnesses & victims & (would) further worsen the challenges law enforcement officials face,” Gonzalez tweeted.

“With a distinguished career in law enforcement and public service, Sheriff Gonzalez is well-suited to lead ICE as the agency advances our public safety and homeland security mission. I hope the Senate will swiftly confirm Sheriff Gonzalez to this critical position,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a release Tuesday.

Gonzalez will be charged with shifting morale at an agency where some critics fear rank-and-file officers may resist parts of the Biden administration’s agenda. 

The administration has already taken some steps to reduce the authority of ICE officers, including issuing new enforcement priorities that restrict the causes agents can rely on for initiating deportation.

It also rejected a last-minute ICE union contract agreed to under the Trump administration that would have effectively given the union veto power over many policy changes.

Gonzalez’s nomination was paired with several other national security positions but trailed the announcement of other DHS positions by a few weeks.  

“We encourage the Senate to not only consider but confirm qualified nominees. We certainly consider him one of them,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s press briefing.

Morgan Chalfant contributed.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas DHS Donald Trump Ed Gonzalez ICE Immigration Immigration and Customs Enforcement Jen Psaki Joe Biden

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