Biden’s Nominees to Lead ICE and Border Patrol Signal Sharp Departure From Trump Era

Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, and Chris Magnus, Tucson’s police chief, would be responsible for delivering on President Biden’s promise to return compassion to the immigration system.


By Eileen Sullivan

WASHINGTON — Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff of Harris County, in Texas, made ending a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement one of his first decisions on the job because, he said, the program encouraged “illegal racial profiling.”

Chris Magnus, the police chief in Tucson, Ariz., has taken pride in his city’s boast of “being welcoming to immigrants.” It is also home to one of the busiest sectors of the Border Patrol, an agency that is rarely praised for its hospitality.

The two men have been tapped to run the federal government’s immigration enforcement agencies, an abrupt shift from rough-justice immigration chiefs in the Trump administration. If they are confirmed by the Senate — Sheriff Gonzalez at ICE and Chief Magnus at Customs and Border Protection — they would be responsible for delivering on President Biden’s promise to return compassion to the immigration system after the roundups, zero tolerance, wall-building and family separations of the last administration.

Sheriff Gonzalez’s confirmation hearing, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is set for Thursday. A hearing for Chief Magnus has not yet been scheduled. But in a reminder of how charged the immigration issue has already become for Mr. Biden, Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said Tuesday that he had placed a hold on both nominations until “we can actually get the Biden administration to lay out what their policy is going to be, and what they’re going to do to be able to actually enforce the law” regarding immigration.

The local law enforcement backgrounds of the nominees would bring a new perspective as Americans demand changes in how the police treat communities of color. But it could also become their greatest challenge, as Sheriff Gonzalez and Chief Magnus try to gain the trust of agencies they have interacted with as distinct outsiders. Local law enforcement leaders tend to see working with their communities as a paramount responsibility. Federal law enforcement has rarely operated that way.

“The job of local law enforcement is pretty significantly different from the role that these immigration enforcement policing agencies play, in part because there’s no way to build trust between ICE and C.B.P. and immigrant communities,” said Shaina Aber, the deputy director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. ICE and the Border Patrol, she added, “really start with this kind of specious notion of immigrant guilt.”

Within the ranks of immigration law enforcement, officers are already wary. Brandon Judd, the president of the Border Patrol union, suggested that Chief Magnus, who loudly criticized the Trump administration’s policies, was sympathetic to people who enter the United States without documentation. “That’s a concern,” he said.

And anti-immigrant groups are girding for a fight. “In the midst of the current border crisis, ICE needs a strong leader at the helm — not an open-borders apologist opposed to the enforcement of our immigration laws,” Preston Huennekens, a government relations manager for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said of Sheriff Gonzalez’s nomination.

The sheriff, whose tenure in Harris County, which includes Houston, began weeks before Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, is no stranger to ICE, an agency that makes a lot of arrests in the area. In 2019, he shared his objections to raids conducted by ICE agents and made clear his department did not participate in them. “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.,” he posted on Twitter. “The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats. Not others who are not threats.”

In Tucson, Chief Magnus limited the reach of the federal immigration authorities by narrowing the scope of the situations deemed appropriate for one of his officers to call ICE or Border Patrol.

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