Home Census Texans appointed to lead ICE, Census Bureau faces tough questions from senators

Texans appointed to lead ICE, Census Bureau faces tough questions from senators

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WASHINGTON – Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Thursday he would not end a controversial immigration and customs enforcement program in which local law enforcement agencies screen jailed suspects to identify those who are illegally in the country.

Gonzalez, President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the ICE, made the comment during his Senate confirmation hearing in an effort to defuse Republican criticism that immigration law enforcement is eluding him.

As Harris County Sheriff, Gonzalez ended the county’s partnership with ICE. He said Thursday that it would not be his “intention” to replicate the decision nationwide. He presented it as a purely local decision, consistent with a “strategic and thoughtful” approach to immigration law enforcement.

Gonzalez is one of two Texans appointed to key positions in the Biden administration who appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The other was Robert Santos, a San Antonio native appointed to head the Census Bureau. Both should get Senate confirmation without serious opposition.

Santos, who is of Mexican descent, is said to be the first person of color to lead the federal government’s largest statistical agency full-time. He stressed the importance of collecting accurate data on an increasingly diverse nation.

“Census Bureau data helps us come together to form a more perfect union,” Santos told Senators.

Robert Santos, named director of the Census Bureau, testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Thursday, July 15, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Jacquelyn Martin, STF / Associated press

The two nominees offer a clear illustration of Biden’s abrupt departure from former President Donald Trump on immigration.

ICE was in many ways the face of Trump’s strict approach. Gonzalez is expected to take a whole different direction, working to build a more “human” executing agency.

Santos is reportedly running an agency that many say Trump politicized by attempting to add a citizenship question to the standard census form and considering the use of census data to illegally target immigrants to the country.

If confirmed, the two would face a difficult task of restoring confidence in the federal government from immigrant communities and boosting the morale of two agencies whose workforces are particularly disgruntled.

The vast majority of senators’ questions on Thursday were directed to Gonzalez, who, as sheriff, criticized the agency he is now appointed to head.

Republican senators toasted Gonzalez over his decision to end the county’s partnership with ICE. They also asked him about a sharp drop in ICE arrests under the Biden administration and its enforcement policies, which Texas and other states are challenging in court.

Gonzalez said the low number of ICE arrests was “concerning,” but added that ICE officers have the latitude to prosecute anyone dangerous, even though the administration has only explicitly targeted those who are dangerous. persons convicted of violent crimes or who are considered threats to national security.

“Public safety is always my pole star,” said Gonzalez, who was elected sheriff in 2016. “The American dream is built on the rule of law and a functioning legal immigration system.”

Gonzalez once called the ICE partnership with Harris County “illegal racial profiling,” and in 2019 he took to social media to criticize the ICE raids, which he said “threaten to ‘deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom do not pose a threat. in the USA”

“I am concerned about our conversation about whether it would be appropriate for you to lead an agency that you have been so critical of,” said US Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Homeland Security committee. .

Gonzalez said he believed in the agency’s mission and would be “aggressive” in attacking people who posed a threat to public safety.

But he also made it clear that he would seek to implement the “humane” immigration system Biden promised to create. Gonzalez said he had partially ended the ICE partnership with Harris County so that sheriff’s deputies could continue to work cooperatively “with a diverse immigrant community.”

Asked by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, if an “immigrant man of 15, 16 and 17 would certainly fit the profile of someone who could be part of a gang,” Gonzalez replied, “In the end of the day, they are still adolescents.

“I am always concerned not to profile and not to develop stereotypes,” he said.

It’s unclear if Gonzalez will be able to win Republicans over. Stephen Miller, a former Trump adviser who guided that administration’s immigration policy, called Gonzalez an “anti-ICE fanatic” and tweeted this week that “a vote for Gonzalez is a vote to protect illegal criminals and punish Americans.”

Presidential candidates only need 51 votes in the Senate to be confirmed. The two parties each control 50 votes in the Senate, but as Speaker of the House Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, can sever ties.

Santos seemed to face less skepticism from Republicans.

In a series of calm exchanges, senators asked how he would boost morale at the census office and if he would change the way the office searches for information on race and ethnicity.

Santos suggested opening up new areas of research and offering flexible remote working options as a way to keep office staff happy.

He admitted that the census director does not control the questions asked by the office. But he said he would use his “personal perspective as a Latino”, as well as his research background, to combine issues of race and ethnicity where possible.

The Census Bureau currently asks if respondents are of Hispanic descent, then asks them their race; the options are white, black, Native American, Asian and “another race”. There has been a movement to combine the questions because many Latinos find it difficult to answer the second race question.

Santos addressed the issue in 2019, telling a Texas TV station, “When I fill out the census form, I check the Latin-Hispanic-Mexican box … And when it comes to race, I check” other. ” and insert “mestizo”. because that’s how I feel about race and ethnicity.

Santos had a tense exchange on Thursday – over delays in releasing 2020 demographics due to the COVID-19 pandemic. States use decennial population figures to redraw congressional and legislative districts. Texas will win two seats in the United States House due to population growth, bringing the state’s total to 38.

Portman urged Santos to commit to releasing demographics by mid-August, as court ordered. Santos said he didn’t have enough information to commit, but was “confident” the office would meet the deadline.

The answer was not what Portman hoped for.

“I want you to just commit today to meet that deadline.” It’s the least you can do, ”Portman said.

Santos is president of the American Statistical Association and vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, a think tank that conducts research on economic and social policy.

In his opening statement to the committee, Santos spoke of his roots in the “barrios of my hometown of San Antonio”.

He grew up just south of Woodlawn Lake and attended Little Flower Catholic School and Holy Cross High School. Her parents both worked at Kelly AFB.

He attended San Antonio Community College before earning a BA in Mathematics from Trinity University in 1976. He then obtained a Masters in Statistics from the University of Michigan.

“The values ​​instilled in me in these schools are the basis of my leadership,” Santos said.

The committee adjourned Thursday without voting on either candidate.

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