Biden’s ICE Director nominee could turn a new leaf for immigration reform

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On Tuesday, the White House nominated Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This position oversees day-to-day operations in ICE detention centers and facilities along the U.S. border. 

In Harris County, Gonzalez is known for being an ally for undocumented immigrants in law enforcement. He has also been critical of several ICE’ policies including the separation of families at the border. 

“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.”

In 2018, Gonzalez tweeted that children at the border shouldn’t be separated from their families and don’t belong in detention centers. 

He is a 18 year veteran of the Houston Police Department and served three terms in the Houston City Council. 

Gonzalez beat Republican incumbent Ron Hickman in 2018 for the Harris County Sheriff position. 

He is also known for refusing to support the 287 (g) program in Harris County which awarded law enforcement money for capturing and finding undocument immigrants in their county. 

The 287(g) program became popular  in Texas under the Trump administration.  

In a press conference on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “We encourage the Senate to not only consider but confirm qualified nominees and we certainly consider him one of them.” 

Like the White House, many Texas immigration advocacy groups and law enforcement seem happy with Gonzalez’s nomination. 

Managing Director of Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance Adriana Cadena said, if confirmed,  Sheriff’s Gonzalez will hopefully bring a new perspective to ICE after years of being a traumatic and anxious government agency for immigrant families. 

“We hope that he really takes ICE into a new direction and stops the deportation of individuals that pose no threat to the country,” she said. 

Cadena also said Gonzalez’s nomination is a 180 for the Biden administration and said they could be doing a lot more on immigration reform. 

“There is a big concern among advocates that the administration is continuing to use Title 42  like Trump did to stop the number of people coming to the border seeking asylum,” she said. “The administration needs to do a better job of process and ensuring people’s safety.” 

According to Cadena, Biden’s immigration policies so far look like a repeat of the Obama administration which deported more immigrants than Trump.

“We want immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for people who have been here living for 20, 30 years without any documentation,” she said. “They are a part of the fabric of the American nation.”

Cadena said since Biden’s administration is still building and supporting detention centers in rural communities, undocumented children are inaccessbile to their families and nonprofit organization. 

“When you place these centers far away and you enclose them just as if they were detention centers just as if they were facilities that are holding criminals that are not steering away from what Trump did or changing the immigration system,” she said. 

Cadena said she hopes Gonzalez will bring leadership to ICE and change their militarization tactics.

“ICE has become a militarized agency that goes out and hunts people down because they don’t even have legal status in the country that is completely inhumane,” she said. “If somebody like Ed can come in and actually make real changes where agents coming in contact with immigrants treat them more humanely… there will be a real shift.” 

The League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC also tweeted their support of Gonzalez in a press release and asked Gonzalez to specifically ban child detention centers on U.S. soil. 

“It is the job of ICE to make sure that unaccompanied children who are the most vulnerable of all refugees are immediately or as soon as possible brought together with family and friends in the United States pending their court hearings. There should not be any baby jails or any children incarcerated in the United States of America. We are better than that.” 

In an interview, Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo said Gonzalez is the right pick for the job. 

“He’s earned the trust of the big melting pot we call Houston Harris County and he’s earned the trust of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrans in the greater Houston area,” he said. “As a result, when he starts his operation going after the bad actors he’ll get the cooperation of the immigrant community.” 

Acevedo, former Houston Police Chief, worked with Gonzalez. 

In his address to Congress Wednesday, President Joe Biden asked Congress to sign the Citizenship Act and the American Dream and Promise Act, commonly known as the Dreamers bill, if they believe in comprehensive immigration reform. 

“Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for the Dreamers – the young people who have only known America as their home,”  he said. “And permanent protections for immigrants on temporary protected status who come from countries beset by man—made and natural made violence and disaster.” 

Biden also recognized immigrants who worked amid the covid-19 global pandemic. 

“As well as a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers who put food on our tables. Immigrants have done so much for America during the pandemic – as they have throughout our history,” he said. 

“The country supports immigration reform. Congress should act.”

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