The U.S. Senate confirmed Tuesday the nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus as the next commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Arizona police chief is widely regarded as a progressive and controversial candidate to head the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. His nomination by President Joe Biden, which the Senate voted 50-47 to confirm, underscored ongoing partisan divisions on border enforcement and immigration.
Magnus, 61, has a 41-year career in public safety and has served since 2016 as Tucson’s police chief. During the Senate Finance Committee’s confirmation hearing in October, he said that he would seek to balance the enforcement of immigration laws and the humane treatment of migrants arriving at the southern border.
Magnus becomes the first Arizonan to head CBP. The agency hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed commissioner for more than two years.
“It’s clear to me that Chief Magnus is going to handle this job with hard work and a sense of decency. He shares the view that enforcing our immigration laws and treating people humanely are not mutually exclusive,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore, said after Magnus’ confirmation hearing.
The Arizona police chief has “developed a reputation as a progressive police leader who focused on relationship-building between the police and community, implementing evidence-based best practices, promoting reform, and insisting on police accountability,” the White House said following Magnus’ nomination in April.
Magnus was endorsed by Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Questioning on both sides of the aisle
Customs and Border Protection has the mission to “protect the American people, safeguard (the U.S.) borders, and enhance the nation’s economic prosperity,” as the agency’s website says.
On a normal day, the agency process more than 60,000 passengers through its ports of entry, apprehends more than 1,000 individuals crossing illegally, seizes about 677 pounds of narcotics, and collects about $216 million in duties, taxes, and other fees.
The commissioner oversees more than 60,000 officers and agents, manages a budget of more than $15 billion, and is responsible for the effectiveness of all CBP components. Those consist of the U.S. Border Patrol, Air & Marine Operations, the Office of Trade, Enterprise Services, Operations Support, and the Office of Field Operations — controlling land, air and seaports of entry.
At the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on the Magnus nomination, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and other Republicans, pressed the Arizona police chief on whether there was a “crisis” at the southern border.
Magnus characterized the situation as “urgent” and “serious” but deflected on a yes-or-no question, a response that was received with contempt by Republicans who have repeatedly condemned the Biden administration’s handling of immigration enforcement.
In October, agents had 164,303 encounters with migrants illegally crossing the U.S. southern border; about 29% are estimated to be repeated border-crossers and 57% of the total were immediately expelled under Title 42.
The number of encounters is down 14% in comparison to September, but represents a 263% increase in comparison to October 2019.
However, Magnus expressed support for two controversial Trump-era policies. During the confirmation hearing, Magnus said he would back the expansion of the border wall in some areas of the southern border and supported the continuation of the Title 42 policy, which allows border agents and officers to immediately expel migrants to Mexico or their home countries under a public health consideration.
In front of the committee in October, Magnus pledged to lead with “unwavering commitment to serving the American people and will lead with intellectual humility and enthusiasm every day.”
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