Texas prosecutor on track to become first Latina director of ICE

Role of top immigration enforcer remains unfilled

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sarah R. Saldaña is poised to become the first Latina to lead a federal agency on the frontline of immigration enforcement. The Texas prosecutor is President Barack Obama’s top pick to lead immigration enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, a key position at a time when a flood of unaccompanied minors across the border has drawn national attention to immigration issues.

Saldaña, 62, will need Senate approval if she is to become director for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The position has remained unfilled for over a year since the previous head of ICE, John Morton, stepped down. The agency is responsible for the apprehension, detention and removal of people who attempt to cross the border illegally. Last year, ICE removed over 235,000 border crossers, a slight increase from 2012.

Sarah Saldaña

In 2011, Saldaña became the first Latina to serve as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, where she oversees prosecutions for one of the biggest U.S. attorney’s offices in the country.

Senator John Cornyn and former senator Kay Baily Hutchinson backed her then but Cornyn was noncommital when asked about Saladana’s chances to become the country’s top immigration enforcer.

“Sarah is a dedicated public servant with a distinguished career as a prosecutor,” Cornyn said in a statement. “I look forward to a thoughtful, candid discussion with her regarding her nomination to be Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

It’s unclear whether there will be a political fight over her confirmation. Democrats in the majority are likely to hold sway in the Senate and attempts to reach the nominee for comment were unsuccessful.

The youngest of seven siblings, Saldaña is a native Texan with a long track record of public service. Before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she was in private practice from 1985 to 1999 in Dallas and worked for several federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Her sister, Marisela Saldaña, a visiting state district judge in Texas’s  Fifth Administrative Judicial Region, says there is no doubt Sarah is tough enough to lead: “She had to toughen up to stay up with the six that were ahead of her.”

Washington correspondent Trish Choate can be reached at 202-408-2709 or Trish.Choate@Scripps.com. Follow her on Twitter at Trish_in_DC. 
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