Portman Presses ICE Nominee on State & Local Partnerships, Decrease in ICE Arrests Under Biden Administration

WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed Ed Gonzalez, nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on his decision, while serving as then-Sheriff for Harris County, to terminate a long-standing program, 287G, which allows trained local law enforcement to partner with ICE to cooperate on removing dangerous criminal migrants from the United States. Portman highlighted the importance of establishing and maintaining partnerships between ICE and state and local law enforcement to bolster effectiveness in executing the ICE mission to protect Americans from criminal unlawful migrants and cross-border crime, especially as the country faces the worst crisis at our southern border in at least two decades. 

In addition, Robert Santos, the nominee to be Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, would not commit to Senator Portman that if confirmed, he would ensure that the Census Bureau would meet the agreed deadline to provide redistricting data to Ohio. Portman stressed the importance of the Census Bureau providing timely and accurate data to state and local governments that depend on it for federal funding and redistricting purposes. 

Excerpts of his questioning can be found below, and a video can be found here

Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thanks for allowing me to defer so some of my colleagues could get their questions in. Ohio, Mr. Santos, is working on redistricting, as you know. Incredibly important. I mean, there are people who are thinking of running for office, but they don’t know what the districts look like because we can’t get the data from the Census Bureau, and it’s been a disaster in Ohio. And I’m sure other states feel the same. We have a Commission now, and that Commission has a deadline of maps being due for the legislative districts on September 1st and then congressional districts, the map plans are due on September 30th. And with no other options, I supported Attorney General Yost’s lawsuit against the Census Bureau to get the data, because without the data, we can’t draw the lines. And again, literally, people don’t know what districts to run in. Constituents don’t know what district they’re going to be in. And the lawsuit ended up with the Bureau agreeing to provide this data by August 16th. Now remember, I said September 1st is a deadline. So August 16th is not much time to put together the plan and that date cannot slip. 

“Can I ask you today if you are confirmed, will you commit today to ensuring that that deadline is met, that we have no further delay in getting the Census Bureau data?” 

Robert L. Santos, Nominee to be Director of U.S. Census Bureau: “Thank you for that question, Senator. I very much sympathize with the concerns of the state of Ohio in advancing democracy with redistricting. I understand the urgency. I also understand the importance of having accurate information in order to make the critical decisions that drive our democracy. I also understand the timeliness. Timeliness is an element of data quality that has only relatively recently been recognized as something that’s crucial and that we need to take into account when we’re developing data products. So I am with you in terms of wanting to produce data by the dates that have been committed to. I have full confidence in the Census Bureau, the career staff, the excellent data processors.” 

Portman: “Mr. Santos, let me cut to the chase if I could, with apologies for interrupting you. I agree with everything you said, but I need a commitment. Will you commit to meeting the August 16th date? That’s what I’m asking. Yes or no?” 

Mr. Santos: I will commit to trying to meet it as much as possible. I do not have the information right now to know where the Census Bureau is it’s process.” 

Portman: “It’s a court-ordered deadline, and if we don’t have it, we can’t do the redistricting. So I wish you would just commit today to adhering to this deadline. I mean, that’s the least I think that you should be able to do as a nominee for a bureau that has not provided the data needed for us to, as you say, be sure our democracy can move forward by having redistricting on a timely basis. So I’m disappointed you can’t commit to it, but I’ll leave it there unless you’d like to commit to it. August 16th, that’s all I’m asking.” 

Mr. Santos: “I am confident that the Census Bureau will produce it by August 16th.” 

Portman: “But you won’t make a commitment to getting it done?” 

Mr. Santos: “I do not have the information to make a commitment and it would be irresponsible.” 

Portman: “I was just giving you the information, which is it’s court-ordered, and the agreement is to do it on that date.” 

Mr. Santos: “That is absolutely correct, and I totally understand that.” 

Portman: “Okay. Sheriff Gonzales, as you know, ICE has a long-standing principle to establish and maintain these partnerships with state and local law enforcement to bolster effectiveness in executing the ICE mission and our country’s mission to ensure we are protected by ICE. One of these programs is called the 287G program, which allows trained local law enforcement to partner with ICE to cooperate on removing dangerous criminals from the United States. As Harris County Sheriff, why did you terminate the 287G agreement with ICE in 2017?” 

Ed Gonzalez, Nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Thank you, Ranking Member Portman. For me, I made a thoughtful decision. I considered a number of different factors. When I first began as County Sheriff, I was inheriting a budget that was $8,000,000 in arrears. So I had to look at the monetary component of how my resources were being utilized. I think an effective leader needs to look at their resource allocation. Two, this was a voluntary program, so I was working in an amicable manner in coordination with the local ICE director to make sure what the impacts of my decision would be. And I had to consider, obviously, the local realities as well and the importance of local law enforcement also working with a diverse immigrant community. I also wanted to make sure that we continue to remain focused on having the avenues necessary to arrest serious offenders in our community that impact our public safety. So ICE has always maintained a presence to this date inside our facility. We work in a coordinated manner when it comes to that, there’s never been any issues. I’ve never declined a detainer.” 

Portman: “So this concerns me on 287G. Would you, if confirmed, want to terminate to 287G program? You don’t think it works well, you don’t want it in your own county? Would you want to terminate that program?” 

Mr. Gonzalez: “For me, it was a local decision.” 

Portman: “My question is, would you want to terminate the program?” 

Mr. Gonzalez: “That would not be my intent.” 

Portman: “You have made comments saying that you would like to terminate. You’re proud to have terminated the agreement with ICE. You wish the Harris County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have to cooperate with ICE as mandated by Texas law, what you were talking about a minute ago. In response to a question about ICE officers being in Harris County Jail, you said, ‘ICE were there when I arrived. I ended the 287G program that I committed to do. We can get away from that.’ And then you said, ‘I advocated against ICE before, I think it’s unneeded. And I think it’s a bad law,’ with regard to the Texas law mandating cooperation with ICE. You said, ‘If ICE determined someone had previous history with it, then it’s ICE’s purview. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is.’

“You and I have talked about this, but I’m just concerned about a potential leader of ICE having these views about ICE and what the effect would be on the morale of the individuals. Do you stand by those statements today, or do you wish that ICE, the organization you are seeking to lead, would receive cooperation from local law enforcement?”

Mr. Gonzalez: “Ranking Member Portman, thank you for the question. I do want to add a little bit of context in regards to those comments. That was with regards to a state law, and I believe in local control, and that was being mandated by the state legislature as a mandate on local law enforcement. And I felt that as an elected leader in my county, I best understand the reality on the ground, my area of responsibility, and the experience of working with local communities. And so my perspective on that issue was based, or my comments were focused on the mandate, that it was being mandated by the state legislature on local laws.” 

Portman: “Sheriff, my time is expiring. I’m going to leave you with one question, if you would get back to me on the record. We don’t have time, unfortunately, to get into this in detail, but the arrest records, wonder what your view is on that. When the Executive Order was issued on Inauguration Day by President Biden saying no deportations for 100 days, no longer an emergency at the border, we saw a huge drop in ICE arrests. During the last administration from October 2020 to January of 2021, we had roughly 24,000, I’ve talked to you about this, and then the February to May numbers we have are about 10,000. It’s about a 58 percent decrease, 58 percent decrease with the same budget, in ICE arrests. So if you can comment on that – are you concerned about that dramatic decrease in ICE arrests following the Executive Order coupled with the worst half year we’ve had in 20 years in terms of unlawful crossings at the border? So I would appreciate a response in writing on that, if you don’t mind. And again, I appreciate your past service. And for both of you, thank you for your willingness to step forward.”