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President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead immigration enforcement acknowledged senators’ concern about a drop in arrests and said he wants to see more information to understand it better.
Ed Gonzalez, tapped to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, garnered support from Democrats during his confirmation hearing Thursday. Republicans peppered him with questions on whether the Biden administration has been too lenient in handling undocumented immigrants. While he assuaged some lawmakers, Gonzalez’s path to the job is likely to be slowed by a Republican hold on all Department of Homeland Security nominees.
ICE hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed director in more than four years, and committee Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said Gonzalez would need to help rebuild trust with ICE’s workforce, Congress, and state and local partners.
Gonzalez said statistics that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) cited showing ICE arrests falling sharply at the beginning of Biden’s term were “concerning.”
“I would like to see more data to see what other factors may have played into that to better understand the numbers,” Gonzalez added.
Some Republicans showed frustration with Gonzalez’s stance that he needs more information before assessing criticisms about current policies, but others said they appreciated some of his positions.
Hawley said he was “heartened” by Gonzalez’s comments that unauthorized border crossings should remain criminal, and immigrants convicted of violent crimes should be removed.
“I appreciate your answers, Sheriff,” Hawley said. “I think they do put you in significant tension with this administration’s policies.”
Gonzalez, who is sheriff for Harris County, Texas, stressed that he supports a Biden administration policy that directs ICE to make detention and removal of violent criminals a priority.
“With any agency that has limited resources, manpower, and other considerations, I think that it’s appropriate to have priorities,” he said in response to questions from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “We could always assess if those are effective.”
Gonzalez also parried criticism from Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the panel’s top Republican, who cited Gonzalez’s decision as sheriff to terminate a voluntary cooperation agreement with ICE, through which local and federal officials collaborated to enforce immigration law.
Portman questioned whether “it would be appropriate for you to lead an agency that you have been so critical of.”
Gonzalez responded that his past criticism centered on a Texas mandate that local officials enter into cooperation agreements with ICE. “It was a local decision” to scrap Harris County’s agreement, he said, adding that it wasn’t his intent to terminate the program nationwide if confirmed to lead ICE.
The American Civil Liberties Union, in a tweet Thursday, said Gonzalez’s response was “deeply disappointing.”
Lankford this week announced he was making a procedural move to slow the confirmation process for all DHS nominees until Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas provides information about a border wall study and ICE’s enforcement priorities.
“They’ve just shut off deportations in the interior of the country,” Lankford said in a hallway interview Wednesday. “There’s just so many issues.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org