President Biden has nominated a critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the federal government’s most polarizing agencies.
The White House announced the choice as Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, a veteran law enforcement officer who transformed the sheriff’s office in the Houston metropolitan area from one of the agency’s staunchest allies into a reluctant partner.
Gonzalez withdrew his department from a voluntary federal program that for years helped to detain and deport immigrants, and he has expressed concern that involving local law enforcement in civil deportation efforts “silences witnesses & victims” by making immigrants afraid to report crimes.
Gonzalez runs the third largest sheriff’s office in the United States, with approximately 5,000 employees and a $571 million annual budget. If confirmed, he would take over a federal agency with more than 20,000 employees worldwide and an $8 billion-a-year budget.
Gonzalez's nomination comes at a pivotal time for ICE, which a Pew Research Center survey found had a lower approval rating last year than the Internal Revenue Service. Hundreds of sanctuary cities and towns have limited their cooperation with the agency or refused to work with it at all. And some liberals have called for the Biden administration to abolish ICE.
ICE is best known for arresting and deporting people for civil immigration violations such as overstaying their visas or working without legal papers. But the agency also works on criminal investigations, such as drug or human trafficking cases that can target citizens, via its Homeland Security Investigations division.
ICE jails are holding approximately 15,000 detainees, among the lowest levels in years, and deportations from the interior of the United States plunged during the pandemic.
The Biden administration has signaled that it wishes to reform ICE, not abolish it, and Gonzalez is an example of how the agency's relationships with local police can change.
Before Gonzalez's election in 2016, Harris County was one of ICE's most steadfast partners in immigration enforcement. Officials pioneered the federal agency's Secure Communities program, which allows immigration officials to scan the fingerprints of anyone arrested to see if they are in the country illegally.
Harris County also enrolled in ICE’s voluntary program that deputizes local police to search inside the county jails for inmates eligible for deportation.
Gonzalez withdrew from that program in 2017. He has said that police should stick to preventing crime, and ICE can enforce civil immigration laws.
On Tuesday, ICE announced that immigration arrests at courthouses will be more limited than they were under President Trump, the Associated Press reported. Agents would no longer be authorized to carry out routine arrests at courthouses, a practice that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said discouraged people from attending court hearings and cooperating with law enforcement.
ICE can make arrests at courthouses in cases involving matters of national security or if the person poses a threat to public safety.
The Bidens to visit Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter
WASHINGTON — President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit the 39th president, Jimmy Carter, and his wife, Rosalynn, while in Georgia this week, the White House said Tuesday.
The White House had previously announced that Biden would attend a drive-in rally in Atlanta on Thursday to mark his 100th day in office, which comes a day after his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening. The Bidens will now add in a trip to Plains to visit the Carters.
The 96-year-old former president and the 93-year-old former first lady were unable to attend Biden’s inauguration because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both couples are now vaccinated, and the Carters have resumed worshipping in-person at their longtime church.
Biden was a young Delaware senator and Carter ally during the Georgian’s term in the White House, from 1977 to 1981. Carter is now the longest-lived American president in history.
Little pushback yet on laws aimed at transgender youths
Five states have passed laws or implemented executive orders this year limiting the ability of transgender youths to play sports or receive certain medical treatment. There’s been a vehement outcry from supporters of transgender rights – but little in the way of tangible repercussions for those states.
It’s a striking contrast to the fate of North Carolina a few years ago. When its Legislature passed a bill in March 2016 limiting which public restrooms transgender people could use, there was a swift and powerful backlash. The NBA and NCAA relocated events; some companies scrapped expansion plans. By March 2017, the bill’s bathroom provisions were repealed.
So far this year, there’s been nothing comparable. Not even lawsuits, although activists predict some of the measures eventually will be challenged in court.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said he’s surprised by the lack of backlash, but believes it will materialize as more people learn details about the legislation being approved.
“A lot of Americans are still getting to know trans people and they’re learning about these issues for the first time,” he said. “Over time, they get to know their trans neighbors, they get outraged by these bans, and corporations respond ... It’s just a matter of time.”
The president of a major national LGBTQ-rights organizations, Alphonso David of the Human Rights Campaign, attributed the lack of backlash to lack of awareness about the potential harm that these laws could cause to transgender young people.