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CBP head Chris Magnus has resigned, following standoff with DHS secretary

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus, whose resignation was announced on Saturday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus resigned late Saturday, the White House said in a short statement, ending an awkward standoff between the country’s top border official and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Mayorkas asked Magnus to step down on Wednesday but the CBP commissioner refused to go quietly, insisting he would not leave unless asked by the White House.

CBP commissioner says he refused resignation request from homeland security secretary

The White House said President Biden accepted Magnus’s resignation and appreciates his “nearly forty years of service and the contributions he made to police reform during his tenure as police chief in three U.S. cities.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, Magnus said the decision “provides me with the best path for advancing my commitment to professional, innovative, and community-engaged policing.”

The White House also published a copy of a letter from Magnus thanking Biden for his opportunity to serve “over the past year.” But Magnus lasted just 11 months in the job. He was confirmed by the Senate last December in a vote largely along party lines.

His short tenure is a blow to the Biden administration as it struggles to balance migration pressures at the southern border with calls from Democrats for meaningful changes at CBP, and especially the Border Patrol.

During the Trump administration, the Border Patrol had the enthusiastic support of the president but was accused by immigrant advocates of abusing its authority and turning a blind eye to racism and sexism among its ranks.

The labor union that represents Border Patrol agents cheered Donald Trump’s more restrictive immigration policies, and became harshly critical of Biden after he began to rescind them.

Magnus, 62, was picked to lead the country’s largest law enforcement agency after building a reputation as a leading law enforcement reformer during tenures as police chief in Fargo, N.D., Richmond, Calif. and Tucson. He was CBP’s first openly gay commissioner.

Yet Magnus’s ambitions to overhaul CBP put him at odds with Mayorkas and senior CBP leaders struggling to contend with record numbers of migrant arrests along the Mexico border.

Magnus said he sought to make changes to policies governing high-speed vehicle pursuits, staff overtime practices as well as CBP officer inspections of travelers’ cellphones at border crossings, among other reform ideas. Those efforts were stymied, he said.

“I didn’t take this job as a resume builder. I came to Washington, D.C. — moved my family here — because I care about this agency, its mission, and the goals of this Administration,” Magnus said while defying attempts to oust him.

Magnus said Mayorkas was more attuned to the needs of career officials coping with the strains at the border, and did not support his reform ideas.

According to Magnus, tensions peaked Wednesday after Magnus traveled to El Paso to attend a meeting of the Border Patrol sector chiefs. Mayorkas had asked him not to go. Magnus said Mayorkas then asked for his resignation during a videoconference, telling Magnus that he and CBP staff had lost confidence in him and that Magnus had disobeyed him by traveling to El Paso.

Deputy CBP commissioner Troy Miller will serve as the agency’s acting leader, Mayorkas said in an email sent to CBP staff late Saturday. Miller ran CBP as its interim leader during much of 2021.

Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.

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