The nation’s eyes were on Heights native Ed Gonzalez on July 15, when he faced questions from United States senators during a confirmation hearing to become to next director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Gonzalez, who has served as Harris County Sheriff since he first was elected to that role in 2016, was nominated to lead ICE in April by President Joe Biden. The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs peppered Gonzalez with questions during last week’s two-hour confirmation hearing in Washington, asking him about his law enforcement philosophy, his visions for ICE and his past criticisms of the organization, among other topics.
ICE has not had a senate-confirmed director in more than four years.
“If confirmed, I would welcome the opportunity and consider it the opportunity of a lifetime to work with the men and women of ICE,” Gonzalez said during the hearing. “I would like to see us become a preeminent law enforcement agency that works effectively.”
Gonzalez touted his leadership skills, collaborative mentality and experience in law enforcement and public service, including his time as a homicide detective for the Houston Police Department, his stint on the Houston City Council and his role as sheriff, in which he manages an operating budget of more than $570 million and oversees one of the country’s largest jails.
He was questioned about his decision a few years ago to end Harris County’s partnership with ICE under the 287(g) program, in which the ICE cooperates with state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws. Gonzalez cited budget concerns and resource allocation among his reasons, saying the Houston area has a diverse immigrant community and he wanted the sheriff’s office “to remain focused to have the avenues necessary to arrest serious offenders in our community.”
When asked if he would end the program altogether as director of ICE, Gonzalez said, “That would not be my intent.”
Gonzalez said he would seek to strike a balance between upholding U.S. immigration laws and operating with compassion toward immigrants. He also said he would rely on data to help ICE operate as efficiently as possible.
When asked how he would define success as ICE director, Gonzalez said his “North star is always public safety.” He said he would aim to keep communities safe while also improving ICE’s engagement within communities, so those who encounter the organization are not fearful of it.
“I’m a proven and effective leader, battle tested and know how to get things done,” Gonzalez said. “We can be firm on crime, we can be firm in enforcement, but we don’t have to lose our humanity and compassion as well.”
If Gonzalez is confirmed as ICE director, the Harris County Commissioners Court will appoint a replacement for him as county sheriff.