WASHINGTON — Ed Gonzalez, President Biden’s nominee to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said on Monday that he was withdrawing from consideration after a long-troubled nomination.
In a letter to the president, Mr. Gonzalez, the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, and a fierce critic of hard-line policies at the agency he was tapped to lead, said he had withdrawn “in the best interest of the nation.” He noted that he was nominated 14 months ago, and said he needed to focus his “full, undivided attention” on his duties as sheriff.
With the bitter political divide over immigration swirling around his nomination, Sheriff Gonzalez had faced a difficult path from the start. But his confirmation process was further weighed down and delayed for months after Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, released a police affidavit that accused Sheriff Gonzalez of domestic abuse of his wife, Melissa.
Both Sheriff Gonzalez and his wife had denied the allegations. The police officer who wrote the affidavit later told a Senate committee in a deposition that corroborating evidence he mentioned in the affidavit did not exist, according to a summary of the committee’s findings. An aide for the committee added that its investigators could not find any evidence to corroborate the allegations.
The withdrawal was yet another blow both to ICE, which has not had a permanent director since the Obama administration, and to the Biden administration, which has seen immigration become a political liability as it has struggled to contain surges of migrants at the border and replace many of the hard-line policies it inherited. It came on a day that the bodies of at least 46 people believed to be migrants were found dead in and around a tractor-trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio.
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Sheriff Gonzalez “would have been a great leader of ICE,” the White House said in a statement. “We thank Sheriff Gonzalez for his willingness to serve in the face of baseless allegations against his family.”
The nomination of Sheriff Gonzalez, who had sharply criticized the Trump administration’s deportation policies, represented a major departure from the hard-line immigration chiefs who had served under President Donald J. Trump. As sheriff, he had ended a partnership with ICE because, he said, the program encouraged “illegal racial profiling.”
That repudiation of Mr. Trump, as well as ICE, drew criticism from Senate Republicans. But for Mr. Biden, the nomination had been a step toward fulfilling his promise of more humane immigration policies under his administration.
“America has shown the world that it’s not only possible to survive, but thrive, as a nation that welcomes those seeking a new home and a better life through hard, honest work,” Sheriff Gonzalez said during his confirmation hearing last year.
Sheriff Gonzalez’s withdrawal was the latest in a series of setbacks for that pledge, for efforts to fill vacant leadership positions at the Homeland Security Department and for Mr. Biden’s immigration agenda as a whole. A long-planned attempt to lift a major pandemic-era immigration restriction was blocked by a federal judge last month. Another federal judge on Saturday suspended a Biden administration policy that prioritized the arrest of undocumented immigrants who are considered a threat, rendering millions of people vulnerable to deportation.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, has also faced withering criticism by Republican lawmakers as a momentous surge in migration across the southwestern border has overwhelmed immigration agencies. And deportations of Haitian emigrants have spiked even as the Biden administration faces criticism from progressive groups and lawmakers over how it treats Black migrants.
Sheriff Gonzalez said he would now devote his energy to leading his department and addressing the rising crime and overcrowded jails in his county.
“I am grateful to President Biden for the honor of nominating me,” he said on Twitter on Monday. “And 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.”