Biden pick for immigration enforcement withdraws after long delay

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FILE PHOTO: Ed Gonzalez testifies on his nomination as director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

WASHINGTON – Ed Gonzalez, a Texas sheriff, said on Monday he had told President Joe Biden that he had withdrawn from consideration for the post of director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a lengthy delay at getting confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“More than a year has passed since the president nominated me for this important position, which has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the Obama administration,” Gonzalez said in a tweet, referring to Barack Obama, a Democrat who was president from 2009 to 2017.

A copy of his withdrawal letter sent to Biden on Sunday and seen by Reuters on Monday said he needed to focus on an uptick in violent crime in his county and a court backlog driven by the pandemic that has led to a surge in the jail population.

“All this leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that in 2022, I must devote my full, undivided attention and energy toward fulfilling the duties that the people of Harris Country elected me to perform,” he wrote.

A veteran law enforcement officer and Democrat, Gonzalez has served since 2017 as sheriff of Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and home to Houston, the state’s biggest city. In that role, Gonzalez ended the county’s participation in a program that increased cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

Gonzalez had criticized immigration raids during the presidency of Republican former President Donald Trump. Biden nominated Gonzalez as the head of ICE in April 2021, but his confirmation was stalled in the Senate.

Biden has pledged to move away from the hardline immigration policy of his predecessor. His administration has instructed agents to focus on deporting those people in the United States illegally who have committed dangerous crimes, as well as targeting employers exploiting migrants instead of raiding workplaces to look for people working illegally.

The delay in confirming Gonzalez came after Republican Senator James Lankford raised concerns over an allegation made last year that the sheriff had become “physical or violent” with his wife several years ago, which both the sheriff and his wife deny.

Staff at the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs looked into the domestic abuse charges against Gonzalez and found them without merit, according to a summary of their findings seen by Reuters.

A White House spokesperson responded to Gonzalez’s withdrawal.

“Sheriff Gonzalez has the qualifications and experience to do this important job and would have been a great leader of ICE. We thank Sheriff Gonzalez for his willingness to serve in the face of baseless allegations against his family and thank Homeland Security Chairman Peters for his diligent and hard work in support of the nomination,” the spokesperson said, referring to Senator Gary Peters.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Ted Hesson in Washington and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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