WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, nominee to serve as Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on improving screening processes for dangerous ideologies and white supremacism within the agency. During the hearing, the Senator also questioned Robert L. Santos, nominee to serve as Director of the U.S. Census Bureau about how to make census survey materials more accessible for Nevada’s AAPI community and others. A transcript of the Senator’s remarks can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: Thank you, Chairman Peters and Ranking Member Portman. I also want to thank Sheriff Gonzalez and Mr. Santos for being here today. I really enjoyed speaking with both of you earlier this week.
I know that Senator Peters brought this up, but I want to build on this a little bit. Sheriff Gonzalez, of course, I appreciated the chance to discuss how it has been increasingly challenging for ICE to recruit and retain qualified, responsible agents over the last few years. I know you agree that it’s important to maintain high standards for ICE personnel and screen recruits appropriately during the hiring process to reduce the chance of corruption and misconduct, of course, which have plagued the agency in the past. You know, in Nevada last year, we saw a worst case scenario when reporting revealed that a CoreCivic employee at the company’s Southern Nevada Detention Center was actively participating on a neo-Nazi website, expressing interest in starting a white supremacist group, as well. This is absolutely unacceptable, particularly for an agency the works disproportionately with underrepresented minority and vulnerable undocumented communities.
So, going forward, how will you ensure that ICE properly screens for individuals who embrace white supremacy or frankly other dangerous ideologies? And what are your plans to conduct a human capital needs assessment to identify those needed improvements in both recruiting and retention?
GONZALEZ: Thank you, Senator. I think, obviously maintaining a workforce that has the highest integrity is always critical to make sure we’re maintaining public trust. This is something that I work with on a regular basis, leading a backgrounds and recruiting operation within the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, as well as my previous work where we were trying to attract talent to the city of Houston in my role on city government. This is something that we’re always working, in fact I met recently with my team to see how we could do better with our screening protocols, making sure that we’re onboarding the right leaders into our agency. I know across the board, nationally, many law enforcement agencies are also grappling with this—not only the initial onboarding, but further check-ins throughout their career to make sure that things somehow aren’t getting, you know, gone sideways in some way or no longer fit the mission of the agency when it comes to a team member’s behavior. And, so, this is something I would commit to understanding more and working with you, to work with you through those concerns, if confirmed to be the director.
ROSEN: Thank you. I appreciate that. I want to move on too to talk a little bit about the ICE’s contracting practices because last year, we all heard about the frankly shocking and the criminal medical procedures performed on women without their consent at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia that LaSalle Corrections managed. So I was relieved to hear earlier this year that the Irwin County Detention Center would be closing. Of course, we’ve heard similar serious complaints about the health and safety of detainees at other facilities owned and operated by private companies.
So, if confirmed, what policies what policy changes are you considering, or would you consider, regarding ICE’s contracting practices, particularly in the realm of, with respect to the health and safety practices for detainees?
GONZALEZ: Thank you, Senator. If confirmed, the health and safety of our facilities is paramount, not only for those that are under our care, but for our workforce as well. So, I understand the critical nature of it. I operate one of the largest jail systems, it comes with many challenges, so I am quite attuned to those challenges and working with a team to work through those challenges. I also understand the complexity of working with a very detailed oversight body when it comes to review and inspections of our jail facilities. I understand that under ICE they own and operate directly five facilities but there are other facilities where there are contracts in place. In total, ICE operates with, I believe, four different sets of standards, so it’s very complex operating and overseeing a system that big. So I would want to understand what oversight and safeguards are in place to make sure that there are certain standards that are being met. We had experience, or I had experience in this early on in time, so we’ve had to outsource, temporarily, into other facilities, private facilities. It’s a practice that, generally, I’m not in favor of. We’re currently not outsourcing any inmates in our facility, so this is something that I would want to make sure. That’s sometimes my concern with private facilities, is oversight of that, and making sure we’re holding folks accountable to maintaining those high standards. So this is an area of concern. I’ve heard stories of some of the inhumane treatment and that would not be in alignment with the vision that I would have for ICE, if confirmed. So, I would commit to make sure that we are reviewing that very closely, Senator.
ROSEN: Thank you, I want to quickly, in the minute I have left turn to Mr. Santos, and talk a little bit about breaking down the language barrier. I mentioned before in this committee I do applaud the Bureau for providing resources and materials in 59 non-English languages, but the Census questionnaire itself was only available in 12 non-English languages. That excluded a large number of South and Southeast Asian languages spoken by AAPI communities, not just in Nevada, but all across the country. My office also heard that seniors and other underrepresented populations had trouble completing the Census questionnaire due to a lack of broadband access and technological literacy, which is really a problem since we did experience postal delays last year, and of course there were a lot of fears around that as well.
So Mr. Santos, how are you going to address some of the broadband technological issues, the language issues? How do you intend to minimize those if confirmed?
SANTOS: Well thank you for that question, Senator. I believe that all voices need to be heard when it comes to the decennial census as well the massive survey programs and data collection programs, which are the other part of the census bureau that folks don’t often recognize because they’re incredibly important to our economy and understanding our people. In terms of getting to individuals of different languages, it’s important to tailor designs, to tailor approaches, to understand the situations that people are in. Often it’s not enough to simply translate a form and pass it on. There are issues of cultural relevance, what is the reading level of the populations that we’re going after? Ultimately, it demands research so that we can take the various populations in the wonderfully diverse United States that we live in, and tailor different approaches to different individuals to maximize their chance of participation. That includes not only translations. It includes outreach. It includes talking to stakeholders and getting their buy-in. it includes a whole variety, a large toolkit that needs to work together to create the strategies and practices and protocols that we’ll achieve.
ROSEN: Thank you.