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Ed Gonzalez is sworn in before his testimony at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on his nomination to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Washington, DC, on July 15, 2021. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images) 
Ed Gonzalez is sworn in before his testimony at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on his nomination to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Washington, DC, on July 15, 2021. (Photo by Nicholas…

A new ICE director? This is what immigrant rights groups have to say

ICE may finally have a permanent leader after years of uncertainty, but Ed Gonzalez’s history is in the spotlight. 

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President Joe Biden has made his pick for the nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He is Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Texas’ Harris County, a Latino, and just the third potential ICE director in its 20-year-history.

ICE hasn’t had a formal director since Donald Trump’s administration assumed office. Biden made the decision on April 27 to continue ICE’s notorious operations when announcing Gonzalez’s nomination. 

If confirmed, Gonzalez would be at the helm of a federal agency with 20,000 employees and an approximately $8 billion annual budget.

Gonzalez took the stand at his confirmation hearing Thursday and pledged to uphold the “rule of law,” and said he would not end a voluntary ICE program that allows local law enforcement to collaborate with the agency’s deportation efforts.

His answers came in slight contradiction to public statements he made as Harris County Sheriff, where he was critical of ICE’s policies under the Trump administration, particularly in regards to ICE’s unannounced mass-roundups of undocumented immigrants and family separation at the border.

In 2017, he ended a 287(g) Harris County partnership with ICE that trained local deputies to identify the immigration status of suspects in jail to see if they are eligible for deportation. 

“I do not support #ICERaids that threaten to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom do not represent a threat to the U.S. The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats. Not others who are not threats. 

@HCSOTexas does not participate,” Gonzalez wrote in 2019.
 

While he took time to praise the role immigrants have played in the shaping of the nation, saying that America thrives “as a nation that welcomes those seeking a new home and a better life through hard, honest work,” the sheriff took an overall mixed approach to his ideologies during nomination proceedings on Thursday.

"We can be firm on crimes, we can be firm on enforcement, but we don't have to lose our compassion and humanity as well," Gonzalez said during the hearing. 

The approach has immigrant rights groups on edge and several released statements upon Gonzalez’s confirmation hearing. 

They echoed a similar message: That while the Biden administration has sights set on continuing ICE’s operations, he must meet the promises he made over the campaign trail. 

“If confirmed, we demand Ed Gonzalez hit the ground running by peeling back the layers of secrecy that have created a deadly culture of impunity at ICE, where accountability is evaded at every turn and abuse permeates the detention system,” wrote Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. 

Shah later emphasized the rate of detentions under ICE, which has only grown since Biden assumed office — by 80% during a pandemic. 

“The new ICE Director must meet immigrant rights advocates’ demands to stop deportations, shut down detention centers immediately, and release people from detention without transfers to other facilities,” she continued.

Jacinta Gonzalez, Senior Campaign Organizer with Mijente, emphasized the expectation that Biden delivers on his promises that helped him win the election:

From ending the police-to-deportation pipeline, reuniting separated families, rewriting the guidelines that dictate how ICE conducts detention and deportation, and ending privately run immigration detention centers.

“We will be watching,” she wrote in a statement. 

At the core of some statements, organizations emphasized the potential for Gonzelez to implement real change. Judging from his mixed responses, there is potential, but not without a push.

“If confirmed as Assistant Secretary for ICE, we urge Ed Gonzalez to end the cruelty and inhumane tactics imposed on our people by ICE. Under his leadership, the agency must put into play bold actions to build towards a just and humane immigration system to prevent further suffering and pain,” wrote Jaritza Mendez, co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York. 

Gonzalez has the opportunity to fundamentally reshape ICE, an agency that has long been used as a political weapon against immigrants. Mixed statements from him are promising, but they also point at the potential for him to make progressive statements as a facade while ICE remains the same.

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