In response to Harris County Sheriff Gonzalez’s Pending Nomination as ICE Director, Advocates Demand Accountability and Bold Action

Workers Defense Project is a member of the Houston Leads Coalition. Houston Leads is diverse, nonpartisan coalition of immigrant organizations committed to decrease the incarceration and deportation in Harris County.

Houston, TX — Earlier this week, immigrant rights and criminal justice advocates were shocked to learn that Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was nominated by the Biden Harris Administration to lead U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal immigration enforcement agency rooted in imperialism and white supremacy, and responsible for numerous human rights violations.

In its first 100 days, the Biden Harris Administration has taken very few meaningful steps to achieve inclusive and humane immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to rely on a criminalizing framework, built upon the fundamentally racist and unjust criminal legal system. DHS has deported and expelled hundreds of thousands of individuals since Biden took office, including nearly 2,000 Haitian adults and children, and ICE detention remains a major hotbed of COVID-19 infections. Meanwhile, the administration has done almost nothing to engage directly with immigrant communities. To hold ICE accountable for the harm it has sown in our communities, the agency cannot be led by law enforcement officials who have made a career of criminalizing Black and Brown communities.

Though Sheriff Gonzalez terminated Harris County’s 287(g) contract in 2017 in response to 3 years of community pressure, he has continued to work with ICE. In fact, Harris County has the highest number of ICE arrests in the nation. The vast majority of those arrests are a result of transfers from Sheriff Gonzalez’s jail to ICE custody, demonstrating deep seated entanglement between the Sheriff’s office and ICE. Moreover, during his tenure, we continued to see record numbers of murders of Black and Brown community members at the hands of police and sheriff’s deputies.

The administration should be working to immediately shrink and abolish ICE altogether by cutting ties with local and state law enforcement agencies, ending the practice of transfers from jails to ICE custody, and closing detention facilities. Nominating a sheriff who has vocally opposed some of Trump’s policies is not the bold vision that Biden himself talked about during his address to a joint session of Congress. If confirmed to lead ICE, Sheriff Gonzalez must commit to working with community advocates and directly impacted individuals to execute their demands.

Said Anita Gupta, Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC):

“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.”

Said Norma Gonzalez, Texas Lead Organizer, United We Dream:

“Since its creation, ICE has operated with the goal to target, detain and deport Black and Brown immigrants. Leadership change at ICE will not change that. Our communities in Texas have witnessed first-hand how Sheriff Gonzalez has worked with ICE to transfer immigrants to ICE detention facilities and perpetuated the pain and trauma of our communities. To truly protect immigrants, President Biden must acknowledge that at its core, ICE and CBP are imperialist agencies that must be defunded and abolished.”

Said Ola Osaze, Co-Director, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project:

“Thanks to his legacy, more Black, Brown and/or LGBTQ people are ensnared in the detention to deportation pipeline, and more migrant families torn apart by heightened criminalization. Dismantling ICE should be the primary mandate of anyone who steps into this role. Abolishing this anti-Black, racist, homophobic and transphobic structure is one critical step towards intervening and disrupting a prison industrial complex that profits off the separation, caging and killing of our communities. As Sheriff Gonzalez has emboldened ICE within Harris County so shall he, or anyone else in this role, do on a broader scale if their primary objective is not abolishing ICE.”

Said Laura Perez-Boston, Organizing Director for Workers Defense Project:

“In his role as Sheriff and City Council Member Pro Tem we have seen Ed Gonzalez stand with immigrant and working families by ending 287(g) and championing the Houston Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance but we cannot celebrate the promotion of anyone tasked with leading ICE. Deporting immigrants inhumanely and upholding white supremacy in this country is one of the core tasks ICE is charged with doing. The only way to truly stand on the right side of history and with the communities Sheriff Gonzalez comes from is to dismantle the very agency he would lead. This nomination is not a win for our communities, rather the opportunity to once and for all defund and abolish ICE.”

Said Alán M. de León, Houston Advocacy Organizer with MOVE Texas and R2J member:

“Irrespective of who is the next Harris County Sheriff or head of ICE, the priority remains to implement systemic reforms to both our immigration and public safety systems. We need to ensure that people both domestic and abroad can migrate safely and securely, reduce our jail populations, and expand community-based alternatives to policing. We can only truly accomplish these goals if ICE is abolished and if we depart from our public dependencies on armed law enforcement, namely by expanding non-police first responder programs, citation default cite and release programs, police divestment and community reinvestment, and other major reforms.”

Said Alexis Bay, Legal Fellow with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP):

“We hope Sheriff Gonzalez recognizes that success in our eyes is contingent on whether or not he becomes this violent agency’s last director. We urge the Sheriff to pave the road to abolition by continuing the work of community leaders, like those in Harris County, and on day one, end all 287 (g) agreements and every other racist and predatory law enforcement agreement with ICE, nationwide. After that, if the Sheriff and administration truly want to build back better, he must tear down the racist detainer practices, raids, and policies that systemically profile people and ignore humanity’s fundamental right to walk about the Earth. We were promised bold change, and this is how it happens.”

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Defensa Laboral is a statewide member-based organization fighting for better working conditions for low-wage, immigrant workers in Texas. Our model centers around the idea that change is only possible when it is led by those impacted by injustice. Through education, organizing and direct services, we empower workers throughout the state to win fair, safe jobs and become effective advocates for themselves and their communities. 

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