Despite all the complaints aimed at one of the least productive Congress' in history, in the last days before leaving for the holidays the Senate has managed to pass a budget and confirm a couple Obama appointees. One of those appointees is the new head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. For the first time in the history of the office, the head of ICE will be a Latina.
Sarah Saldaña is the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Last week she was confirmed by the Senate in a 55 to 39 vote. She will now be the first Latina to head the federal agency charged with enforcing border security and immigration laws. ICE will be an agency experiencing major changes during the coming year. As a result of the White House administration's executive actions, the Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol and ICE will change their priorities as to which immigrants to apprehend, detain and remove.
Saldaña had been viewed favorably by Republicans when she was nominated earlier this year; however, her status changed after President Barack Obama announced his immigration policy changes last month. Saldaña was in favor of the president's executive actions, which resulted in some Republican senators withdrawing their support for her nomination, including Senator John Cornyn from her home state of Texas. Her response to the president's executive action was that Obama did have the legal authority to take such action, as it was within the purview of the executive branch.
Saldaña graduated Summa Cum Laude from Texas A&I University. She then taught 8th grade, and worked for a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Labor. She went on to get her J.D. from Southern Methodist University, and clerked for a U.S. District judge. Saldaña was appointed as an Assistant U.S. attorney in 2004. She was recently named Latina Attorney of the Year, and in 2011 became Texas's first Latina chief prosecutor.
In nominating Saldaña, Obama had high praise for the Corpus Christi native. “With her years of experience enforcing the law -- most recently as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas -- Sarah is the right person to lead the dedicated men and women at ICE in securing our borders, keeping American communities safe, and upholding our values,” said Obama. He continued to express confidence in her ability to protect the country in “a smart, effective, and humane way.”
Even Senator Cornyn spoke highly of the nominee before stepping back from a yes-vote based on her support for the president's plan. “If respect for the rule of law is our standard, and I think it should be, we would be hard-pressed to find a person more qualified to enforce the law than Ms. Saldaña,” said Cornyn. However, he later said, “if she is determined to help the president implement this deeply flawed executive action...I can't support her nomination.”
In her role as head of ICE, Saldaña will report to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. Johnson also endorsed her commitment in “supporting those that enforce our laws, protect the homeland, and promote public safety.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also praised Saldaña for her ground-breaking nomination, as the first Latina head of ICE.