For Immediate Release

July 15, 2021

Washington, D.C. - On Thursday, July 15, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the confirmation of Ed Gonzalez as Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a key leadership position within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Gonzalez, the Sheriff of Harris County (which includes Houston) in Texas, was nominated by President Biden in April. If confirmed, Gonzalez will oversee and help shape the interior immigration enforcement priorities and detention policies of the Biden administration. The We Are Home campaign, a nationwide campaign to fight for immigrant communities, has made immediately cutting detention and deportation and overhauling the interior system priorities for the campaign. The following are statements by key leaders within the We Are Home campaign in advance of the Thursday hearing.

Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, said: "If confirmed, we demand Ed Gonzalez hit the ground running by peeling back the layers of secrecy that have created a deadly culture of impunity at ICE, where accountability is evaded at every turn and abuse permeates the detention system. The number of people in immigration detention is growing at an alarming rate, rising by over 80 percent since January, on the cusp of doubling. The skyrocketing numbers come against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases in detention and the longstanding record of mistreatment that plagues detention facilities system-wide. People's lives are in jeopardy in ICE custody — full stop. The new ICE Director must meet immigrant rights advocates' demands to stop deportations, shut down detention centers immediately, and release people from detention without transfers to other facilities."

Angelica Salas, Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), said:
"Should he be confirmed, we demand that Ed Gonzalez immediately rein in ICE's cruel deportation machinery. He must go far beyond his own decision as Harris County Sheriff to end that county's 287(g) agreement with ICE. Because ICE continued to operate with impunity, that move did not make much impact. As ICE director, Gonzalez would need to ensure that all personnel, from agents to trial attorneys, properly exercise prosecutorial discretion and keep our families and communities whole. Finally, he must take DHS Secretary Mayorkas' own statement that there is an "overuse" of immigration detention as a directive. That means also respecting local initiatives to get out of the immigration prison racket, like California's AB 32."

Jacinta Gonzalez, Senior Campaign Organizer with Mijente, said:
"If confirmed, Ed Gonzalez will inherit an enforcement agency rife with cruelty and corruption. ICE is plagued by egregiously poor conditions and a culture of violence that results in system-wide abuses, including death. The same is true for CBP. The federal government wastes more than $23 billion each year on these agencies to profile, jail, and deport immigrants.

Since President Biden took office, more than 450,000 people have been deported or expelled; ICE detention is up more than 80%; and he called for an $18 million increase in funding for the enforcement agency. We expect Mr. Gonzalez to deliver on the campaign promises that helped President Biden win the White House: ending the police-to deportation pipeline, reuniting separated families, rewriting the guidelines that dictate how ICE conducts detention and deportation, and putting privately run immigration detention centers firmly in America's past. We will be watching."

Avideh Moussavian, National Immigration Law Center (NILC) Director of Federal Advocacy, said:
"If confirmed, Ed Gonzalez must immediately address ICE's longstanding culture of abuse and its policies and practices that ruthlessly strip community members of their rights in cruel and costly detention and deportation systems. This includes the serious medical neglect in ICE detention and failure to take COVID-19 precautions, which has led to the highest annual death toll for individuals in ICE custody in fifteen years. New ICE leadership must take immediate steps to halt destructive enforcement policies, including worksite raids and policies that target workers; end the use of private prisons for civil immigration detention; terminate all agreements and programs that incentivize ICE's collusion with local and state law enforcement; and reprioritize agency resources to focus on ensuring people have access to community and legal support systems."

Yaritza Mendez, Co-Director of Organizing of Make the Road New York, said:
"The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has an alarming history of terrorizing immigrant communities. If confirmed as Assistant Secretary for ICE, we urge Ed Gonzalez to end the cruelty and inhumane tactics imposed on our people by ICE. Under his leadership, the agency must put into play bold actions to build towards a just and humane immigration system to prevent further suffering and pain."

Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project, said:
"President Biden has promised to uphold racial equity and the dignity of immigrants - yet ICE has continued targeting community members, criminalizing and incarcerating people in dangerous facilities, and tearing apart families and communities. If confirmed, we expect Ed Gonzalez to take a fundamentally different approach. We expect him to deliver on the promises of this administration and to change the course of ICE's racially-biased enforcement and carceral approaches. Our communities deserve more than lip service; this racist and destructive agency must be fundamentally transformed."

Naureen Shah, ACLU Senior Policy Counsel, said:
"Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has the opportunity to fundamentally reshape U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency that the Trump administration wielded as a political weapon and used to traumatize families and communities across the country.

"The Biden administration has a mandate to transform ICE, and that requires the new ICE director to make bold moves. If confirmed, we will urge Gonzalez to end collaboration agreements between ICE and sheriffs across the country that have led to racial profiling and damaged communities, just as he did as sheriff of Harris County. Immigrants and their families should not have to fear that seeking police protection or assisting in investigations of serious crimes will lead to deportation of themselves or a loved one. Gonzalez should finally and completely end ICE's entanglement with state and local police. We will also urge Gonzalez to close ICE detention sites across the country, prevent the re-detention of people previously released due to their vulnerability to COVID-19, and stop transferring detained people to detention sites far from their loved ones and legal counsel. We must work towards a system that ensures people are with their families and communities while going through the immigration process, and have access to legal representation. New leadership must thoroughly reorient the agency to prioritize the dignity of immigrants and ensure accountability for human rights violations committed by ICE personnel."

Anita Gupta, Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), said:
"During Ed Gonzalez's tenure as Harris County Sheriff, the county had the highest number of ICE arrests in the nation, many of which were direct transfers to ICE from his jail. If the Biden Harris Administration wants to carry out its campaign promises, it must push for bold and visionary policies that are inclusive and affirm the humanity of every community member, regardless of contact with the criminal legal system. It must stop working with local and state law enforcement agencies, such as the Harris County Sheriff's Office. We must dismantle the inhumane systems and agencies that profit off of Black and Brown suffering and rip apart families. If confirmed, Sheriff Gonzalez must abandon the status quo, and revamp ICE from top to bottom."

The Public Defenders Coalition for Immigrant Justice (PDCIJ) said:
"Sheriff Gonzalez must stop the decades-long expansion of ICE law enforcement through concrete policy changes, including ending ICE detention, ending ICE's cooperation with local police, and exercising ICE's prosecutorial discretion to promote family unity and due process. Handcuffing and jailing people because they were not born in the United States does not make this country safer; neither does prioritizing people with criminal arrest records for civil detention and deportation. Under his leadership, ICE must abandon racist policies that treat immigrants as public safety threats or otherwise undeserving to be, at liberty, in the United States."

BACKGROUND

Gonzalez is the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, one of the largest sheriff's departments in the country. As sheriff, Gonzalez was a vocal critic of ICE's actions in separating families and conducting community raids during the Trump Administration, and he ended Harris County's 287g contract with ICE.

As the director of ICE, Gonzalez will lead an agency that continues to rely on racially biased systems, including the 287g program and other state and local collaborations that compound structural racism in the criminal system. He will also be leading an agency that is now detaining over 27,000 people, an over 80% increase since the start of the Biden Administration, in a network of facilities that have been widely criticized for abusive conditions and significant health risks, including the rampant spread of COVID-19.

He will also be leading ICE as the Department of Homeland Security continues its top-to-bottom review of immigration enforcement policies and practices. On January 20, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security issued a memorandum announcing the top-to-bottom review of the department's policies and practices. On Feb. 18, the acting ICE director issued a memorandum outlining an interim set of priority categories for immigration enforcement. This memo stated that DHS Secretary Mayorkas would be issuing a final set of enforcement guidelines, which are now expected in late August or September.

The We Are Home campaign has criticized ICE's interim enforcement priorities for continuing to rely on flawed and racially biased frameworks that stigmatize immigrants as potential threats to national security or public safety and that fail to ensure meaningful access to asylum for people fleeing violence and persecution. The campaign has urged DHS and ICE to adopt a new framework that focuses on positive discretion that will protect families and communities, counter racial injustice in the criminal legal system, and give people who are eligible for legal status a chance to pursue such status.

The campaign has also urged the continued closing of detention facilities, including cutting contracts with private prison companies, and the release of people from detention without the use of electronic monitoring tools or punitive surveillance programs.

The We Are Home calls on ICE to stay deportations while the agency's enforcement policies remain under review, release people from detention, shut down facilities (including cutting contracts with private prison companies), and adopt a more fair and humane approach that protects people, families and communities, and centers fairness, racial justice, worker and human rights, and asylum access.

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We Are Home is a nationwide campaign to fight for immigrant communities on three fronts: prioritizing and demanding a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America; a moratorium and overhaul of interior enforcement; and broad affirmative relief from deportation. We Are Home is co-chaired by Community Change/Community Change Action; National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA)/Care in Action; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); United Farm Workers/UFW Foundation; and United We Dream.