Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was previously tapped to lead the country’s immigration and customs enforcement agency, said that he was withdrawing himself from consideration for the role after his confirmation vote has stalled for months in Congress.
Gonzalez made the announcement on Monday via Twitter, noting that “more than a year has passed since the President nominated me for this important position.”
“I arrived at this decision after prayerfully considering what’s best for our nation, my family, and the people of Harris County who elected me to serve a second term as Sheriff,” Gonzalez wrote.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security to detain and deport undocumented immigrants, has not had a Senate-confirmed director since early 2017.
Gonzalez’s confirmation vote to lead ICE was expected earlier this year but was halted after an affidavit surfaced detailing a domestic violence dispute between Gonzalez and his wife, Melissa Gonzalez, former president of Houston Community College-Southeast.
In the affidavit, a former Houston Community College police officer alleged that he had received word that Melissa Gonzalez, who was then the school’s vice chancellor of workforce and economic development, wanted to file a complaint against her husband because of “suggested violence she had experienced at her home at the hands of the sheriff.”
Both the sheriff and Melissa Gonzalez denied the allegations, and an inquiry into the allegations obtained by the Houston Chronicle undermined the credibility of the claims. The White House stood by President Joe Biden’s ICE nominee.
“Sheriff Gonzalez has the qualifications and experience to do this important job and would have been a great leader of ICE,” a White House spokesperson said Monday, according to Reuters. “We thank Sheriff Gonzalez for his willingness to serve in the face of baseless allegations against his family.”
It is unclear who Biden will nominate next to lead the agency, which is currently led by acting director Tae Johnson. The previous interim director, Jonathan Fahey, resigned last year after just two weeks on the job. The agency has shuffled through acting directors in recent years and hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed leader since the Obama administration.
News of Gonzalez’s withdrawal came hours before 46 people were found dead inside an 18-wheeler in San Antonio on Monday evening. Federal, state and local authorities believe that the victims were migrants. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus described the case as the deadliest human smuggling incident he could recall in the city.
Texas Republicans have slammed Biden for what they believe has been lax enforcement of the country’s immigration policies.
In addition to the state’s efforts to build a border wall, Gov. Greg Abbott last year launched a border security initiative called Operation Lone Star in response to a rise in border crossings, an effort costing Texans more than $2.5 million a week, and later boasted about the project’s success. An investigation by the Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project raised serious doubts about the governor’s claims.
Gonzalez was a vocal adversary of former President Donald Trump, who has previously endorsed Abbott, and his immigration policies, specifically on deportation. After becoming sheriff of Harris County, where more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants are estimated to live, Gonzalez ended a partnership with ICE that trained deputies to screen jailed individuals for their immigration status, among other efforts.
“I do not support #ICERaids that threaten to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom do not represent a threat to the U.S.,” Gonzalez tweeted in 2019. “The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats.”
Gonzalez was a former Houston police officer before serving three terms on the city council. He was elected sheriff of the state’s most populous county in 2016 and won reelection in 2020.
“I am grateful to President Biden for the honor of nominating me,” Gonzalez wrote on Monday. “I wish this administration well as it strives to overcome the paralyzing political gridlock that threatens far more than our nation’s border. Frankly, the dysfunction threatens America’s heart and soul.”