A Senate committee approved President Biden’s pick to head ICE in a party-line vote Wednesday.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Harris County, Texas, may still face other hurdles on his route to confirmation, but the 7-6 tally in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was the first step.
Mr. Biden sought someone outside of federal immigration enforcement to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, signaling an antipathy toward anyone already working for the agency, which some Democrats say should be abolished altogether.
Sheriff Gonzalez has not backed those calls for abolishment but has been a critic of some of the agency’s operations, has supported the concept of sanctuary cities and canceled a cooperation agreement between Harris County and ICE.
Republicans on the committee said they wanted more answers from the sheriff about his viewpoint, and in particular on his quick dismissal during his confirmation hearing of complaints from ICE officers who said they’re being blocked from enforcing immigration laws by the Biden administration’s political leadership.
“I have serious questions with the reports from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers that the Biden administration is ‘handcuffing’ law enforcement, pushing the “catch-and-release” policy, and ignoring the enforcement of some repeat criminals in our nation,” said Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who voted against advancing the nomination.
The committee is split with seven Democrats and seven Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, missed the vote so the final tally was 7-6. Had it been a tie vote the nomination could still have advanced with a majority vote on the Senate floor.
Sheriff Gonzalez might also have to survive another committee vote in the Judiciary Committee before reaching the floor.
Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat and chairman of that panel, held an online meeting with Sheriff Gonzalez and sounded encouraging notes.
“After four years of disastrous and irresponsible leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, I had a productive conversation with Sheriff Gonzalez about how we can reform ICE policies and practices to prioritize an effective, compassionate, and humane immigration system in line with our values,” Mr. Durbin said.