HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez could soon lead one of the most scrutinized agencies within the federal government after President Joe Biden nominated him for Director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Immigration has long been a hot button issue for the Department of Homeland Security and is an urgent focus for the Biden administration as states bordering Mexico — most notably Texas — manage a border crisis centered on unaccompanied minors and millions of refugees.
Why Sheriff Gonzalez was selected
KHOU11 political analyst Bob Stein said immigration continues to be a challenging issue for Biden. Stein said Gonzalez has a history of advocating for humane treatment and housing for people crossing the border.
“I think having someone with law enforcement experience who is Hispanic, who has been in elected office, multiple elected offices, allows you to say, ‘Here’s someone who knows how to do this and do it humanely,’” Stein said.
What happens next, and who would be the county's new sheriff?
If Gonzalez is confirmed as ICE Director, Commissioners Court would appoint the Sheriff’s replacement to serve until a new election, most likely in 2022.
A White House spokesperson told KHOU11 the Biden Administration will send nominee names to the Senate possibly by early May.
Local leaders praise Biden's choice
Local leaders were quick to express their excitement and support following Biden's announcement Tuesday. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she spoke with Gonzalez briefly after hearing the news.
“He’s done just such a fantastic job,” Hidalgo said. “I’m just really happy that the (Biden) Administration has seen his talent, and I think they’ll gain an incredibly talented leader.”
Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, said the local immigrant rights group has worked with Gonzalez for years. Espinosa credited the Sheriff for listening and taking community input.
"We understand that the role he is about to undertake is a huge and controversial role and we wish him well in this endeavor,” Espinosa said in an emailed statement. “However, we have some things we would not like to see again such as massive raids, lack of prosecutorial discretion and continued separation of hard-working families.”
Of course, there's also confidence in Gonzalez as the perfect person for the job at the White House.
“We encourage the Senate to not only consider but confirm qualified nominees,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “We certainly considered (Gonzalez) as one of them. The president looks forward to having someone in this position and certainly ... indicates a priority that we put it out today.”
Who is Sheriff Ed Gonzalez?
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez leads the third largest sheriff's office in the Unites States, and the biggest in Texas. He was first elected to the Harris County Sherriff's Office in 2016 after retiring in 2009 from the Houston Police Department, where he reached the rank of sergeant and served for 18 years.
One of the city's most visible law enforcement leaders, the sheriff is no stranger to the political arena.
Gonzalez served three terms on the Houston City Council representing District H. He was elected by his peers in 2010 to serve as Vice Mayor Pro-Tem and was appointed Mayor Pro-Tem in 2012 by Mayor Annise Parker.
He also chaired the council’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee.