President Biden’s pick to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, faced more hurdles this week as the labor union for deportation officers accused him of calling whistleblowers liars when he discounted their tales of being blocked from enforcing immigration law.
National ICE Council President Chris Crane said in a letter to senators Monday that the Texas sheriff’s quick dismissals of complaints from within his presumptive workforce “lead us to believe that we’re getting yet another partisan political operative to lead the agency, not a director who truly cares about public safety and the employees he is entrusted to lead.”
Though the numbers of arrests and deportations have plummeted, Sheriff Gonzalez, who hasn’t served at ICE, told senators during his confirmation hearing in May that he didn’t believe the agency’s employees who said they were being hindered from enforcing the law.
“I do not believe it’s true,” he said.
The ICE Council, which represents the officers, said it was a bad start for a man hoping to lead the agency and urged senators to get more clarity from the sheriff before voting on his nomination.
“We’re tired of getting the corrupt, dishonest and incompetent as our bosses, so we’re simply asking the Senate to do their jobs and properly vet this nominee to ensure he’s going to enforce the law and act with integrity if confirmed,” Mr. Crane told The Washington Times.
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The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to take an initial vote Wednesday, but the ICE union said the senators should delay the vote until Sheriff Gonzalez explains why he has discounted officers’ concerns.
“To state publicly, at a Senate hearing no less, that the law enforcement officers he asks senators to entrust him with leading, are being untruthful with the public, when he has no basis whatsoever for making such a judgement, is extremely concerning to us,” Mr. Crane wrote.
He wanted answers about Sheriff Gonzalez’s relationship with a company that brings wealthy foreigners, mostly Chinese, to the U.S. on EB-5 investor visas. In 2015, Sheriff Gonzalez took a trip to China that was funded by Houston EB5, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
The Beacon reported that Sheriff Gonzalez received campaign contributions from advocates of the EB-5 program. The visas have spawned a series of criminal fraud cases.
The ICE Council said it was concerned about the accusations against Sheriff Gonzalez because they echoed worries about Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. A scathing inspector general’s report in 2015 said he intervened to help politically connected investors obtain EB-5 visas.
Mr. Crane said he makes “no allegation of wrongdoing” against Sheriff Gonzalez but added that, given the concerns about EB-5 visas, the committee should press the nominee on whether he is tainted.
Mr. Crane noted that Sheriff Gonzalez said during his confirmation hearing this month that ICE needed to target its enforcement efforts to avoid the risk of arresting a migrant “that may be a business owner.”
Sheriff Gonzales was responding to a question from Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican. The nominee said he was worried about “collateral” arrests: when ICE goes after a target but encounters other illegal immigrants — in this case, a business owner.
Mr. Lankford has placed a hold on all Homeland Security nominees, including Sheriff Gonzalez. He said the hold would remain until the Biden team takes concrete steps to secure the border. To overcome a hold, Democrats would have to invest more time on the Senate floor than otherwise might be expected.
The Washington Times has reached out for comment from several of the senators Mr. Crane addressed in his letter and from Sheriff Gonzalez’s office in Texas.
ICE hasn’t had a confirmed director since the Obama administration. Mr. Trump relied on a series of acting chiefs.
At one point, senators were poised to approve one Trump nominee in committee, but opposition from the ICE Council and others delayed that vote. The White House ultimately withdrew the name.
Leading ICE may be the toughest job in the Department of Homeland Security. Left-wing activists call for the agency’s abolishment, and Republicans question why the agency appears to be doing much less enforcement while working with the same budget.
Mr. Biden looked outside the agency for his nominee and chose a local law enforcement figure.
Sheriff Gonzalez came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearing two weeks ago because he canceled Harris County’s cooperative agreement with ICE, scuttling the 287(g) program, which had local officers trained to look for and begin deportation proceedings on illegal immigrants booked in the county’s jails.
The sheriff said that was the right decision for his Texas community but told senators that doesn’t mean he would scrap the program for the dozens of jurisdictions that use it. “That would not be my intent,” he said.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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