The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved the Biden administration’s nominee, Ed Gonzalez, to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and five bipartisan cybersecurity bills.
The vote on Gonzalez was along party lines with seven Democrats in favor and six Republicans opposed to sending the nomination to the Senate floor for consideration.
Gonzalez, sheriff of Harris County, Texas, opposed ICE’s efforts under former President Trump to deport illegal aliens wholesale, saying that most of them are not a threat to the U.S. and that the agency should focus in rounding up those that do pose threats to safety.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), ranking member of the committee, highlighted his ongoing concerns that under the Biden administration there has been a lack of arrests and deportations by ICE of illegal immigrants found in the U.S.
“While Sheriff Gonzalez committed to enforce our nation’s immigration laws at his nomination hearing, his history with ICE, both his statements and his actions regarding the agency he’s nominated to lead are deeply concerning to me,” Portman said during a committee meeting.
Portman also cited comments Gonzalez made as a sheriff criticizing ICE and that “he only worked with them because he was compelled to do so under a Texas law. A law that he openly and vocally opposed while it was being debated in the Texas legislature.” He added that the head of ICE needs to “strongly” support the agency.
The cybersecurity measures were approved by voice vote. One bill, Domains Critical to Homeland Security Act (S. 2525), would direct the Department of Homeland Security to do research and development to identify critical domains for the nation’s economic and homeland security and to understand how disruptions or interference with these domains threatens homeland security.
The bill, which was sponsored by Portman and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, also calls for DHS to conduct a risk analysis of critical domains.
The State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act of 2021 (S. 2520), sponsored by Peters and Portman, would encourage federal cybersecurity experts to share information with states’ local, tribal and territorial governments about cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities and breaches and resources to help these governments prevent and recover from cyber attacks.
To strengthen existing coordination between DHS and state and local governments, the bill allows the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center to provide those governments with access to security tools, policies and procedures, and also encourage collaboration on the use of these resources to include joint exercise.
The Cybersecurity Opportunity Act (S. 2305), introduced by Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), would create a five-year DHS grant program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, minority-serving institutions and colleges with needy students to establish or expand cybersecurity programs. The bill is aimed at expanding the cybersecurity workforce and improving institutional capacity in support of cybersecurity programs.
Another bill sponsored by Portman, the Deepfake Task Force Act (S. 2559), would have DHS, working with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, establish the National Deepfake Provenance Task Force to examine the potential for creating standards and technologies to determine the authenticity and origin of digital content. The task force would also be the interagency hub for coordination and information sharing in the development and implementation of a national strategy to contend with misinformation in digital content.
The DHS Industrial Control Systems Capabilities Enhancement Act of 2021 (S. 2439), sponsored by Peters and Portman, and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Intelligence Committee, would provide the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) the authorities to maintain capabilities to identify and address threats and vulnerabilities to industrial control systems (ICS).
The ICS bill would also authorize CISA to lead federal efforts to identify and mitigate cybersecurity threats to control systems, maintain threat hunting and incident response capabilities to respond to ICS risks and incidents, and provide technical assistance to the private sector, manufacturers, and federal agencies to identify, assess and mitigate vulnerabilities.