UPDATED 4:07 p.m. CT
President Joe Biden intends to nominate Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonazalez to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the White House announced on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Gonzalez directed questions to the White House, which declined to make him available for an interview.
Gonzalez was a vocal critic of the Trump administration, and in particular, the former president’s immigration policies. In 2019, Gonzalez took to Twitter to say such policies “drive undocumented families further into the shadows,” while doing nothing to promote public safety.
During his tenure, he withdrew from ICE’s 287(g) program that granted county deputies and staff the authority to act as immigration enforcement officers.
But critics say the move did little to actually stop ICE from issuing detainers, since the state mandates cooperation with the agency. At the beginning of March, 788 people in the Harris County Jail were being held on an immigration detainer, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The news came amid a break in Tuesday’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting. County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the news when the meeting resumed, and said that while the county would feel his loss, she was “thrilled” for Gonzalez.
"I'm just really happy that the administration has seen his talent, and I think they'll gain an incredibly talented leader," Hidalgo said.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis echoed that sentiment, saying that he hated to see the sheriff go, but that he would have the opportunity to make a more positive impact on a national stage.
"He has been, in my judgement, one of the most thoughtful, and responsibly progressive law enforcement figures in the country,” Ellis said.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gonzalez would go on to lead one of the most controversial agencies in the federal government, tasked with enforcing U.S. immigration law including deportations.
In a statement, FIEL Executive Director Cesar Espinosa congratulated Gonzalez, but said he hoped to see changes. In particular, Espinosa called for an end to massive ICE raids, and a nationwide end to 287(g).
“We are hopeful for a more positive future for ICE and at the end that we will see the agency’s power diminish as we move forward on immigration reform,” Espinosa said.
The sheriff’s supporters argue that he brings a compassionate approach to law enforcement, and he has been considered by many to be one of the more criminal justice reform-minded sheriffs in the country.
Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, said he would bring a “risk-based, more humane” approach to the role of ICE director.
“His proven track record of pushing for smarter immigration enforcement, as well as advocating for Dreamers in his community, is an encouraging sign that he would run ICE with both practicality and compassion,” read a statement from Noorani.
During his tenure, Gonzalez supported bail reform, and testified against Harris County’s misdemeanor cash bail practices, despite himself being a defendant in the case that eventually led to those practices being found unconstitutional.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Gonzalez pushed for the release of people accused of some nonviolent offenses in the Harris County Jail, in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19. That initiative was ultimately stopped by an administrative judge.
Gonzalez leads the third-largest sheriff’s office in the country, and oversees the Harris County jail, which is the largest in Texas and one of the largest in the nation.
Gonzalez is a former member of the Houston City Council who was first elected to sheriff in 2016, and was reelected last year. Before his time on the council, he was an 18-year veteran with the Houston Police Department.
A senate hearing on Gonzalez’s nomination has not yet been set.
Additional reporting from Elizabeth Trovall and Andrew Schneider