Magnus has led the Tucson police department since 2016 and has prominently associated himself with the movement favored by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that emphasizes a less-aggressive, community-based policing model.
Magnus opposed efforts to make Tucson a “sanctuary city,” but he generally eschewed cooperation with federal immigration authorities, placing him at odds with the Border Patrol union — and many of the agents and officials who will potentially be under his command.
Magnus is one of six intended Department of Homeland Security nominees and selections the Biden administration announced Monday.
Biden will also nominate Ur Jaddou, the former general counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to lead the agency, which is responsible for running the country’s legal immigration system.
Other selections include Jon Meyer, a former DHS and Justice Department attorney, to be DHS general counsel, and John Tien, a National Security Council adviser to President Barack Obama, as deputy DHS secretary. The picks were first reported by the New York Times.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called the picks “extraordinary” in a statement Monday and said he hopes the Senate will swiftly confirm them. “They are highly regarded and accomplished professionals with deep experience in their respective fields,” he said. “Together they will help advance the Department of Homeland Security’s mission to ensure the safety and security of the American people.”
The Biden administration has been under growing pressure to fill vacant leadership positions at DHS, particularly as Mayorkas and his staff have struggled to respond to a record-breaking influx of unaccompanied minors along the border. Last month, CBP took more than 172,000 migrants into custody, the highest total in at least 15 years.
In Tucson, Magnus led a department with about 1,000 officers and staff. If confirmed, he would be in charge of a staff 60 times as large at CBP, which includes the U.S. Border Patrol as well as the Office of Field Operations, whose blue-uniformed officers manage the country’s legal ports of entry.
Relations between Magnus and the Border Patrol have been frosty, according to three current and former CBP officials, particularly following an incident in 2017 when the Tucson police declined to assist the Border Patrol after a suspect escaped from custody.
The Border Patrol’s union officials called him “an ultraliberal social engineer who was given a badge and a gun by the City of Tucson,” in a 2018 Facebook post.
Magnus is a member of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, which is a partner to the National Immigration Forum and says on its website that local police should not be involved in federal immigration enforcement.
Gil Kerlikowske, who was CBP commissioner during Obama’s second term, praised the selection of Magnus.
“I’ve known him a long time,” Kerlikowske said. “He’s a strong leader, thoughtful and quiet, which is exactly what CBP needs. I couldn’t be happier for the organization.”
Magnus is the son of an immigrant from Oslo and grew up in Lansing, Mich. He started his law enforcement career in Michigan before going on to serve as police chief in Fargo, N.D., and Richmond, Calif. He would be the first openly gay Customs and Border Protection commissioner.
Magnus is considered a reformer and was among the law enforcement leaders who last year decried the video showing Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinning his knee against the neck of George Floyd, a Black man.
Magnus derided the use of force as “indefensible.” Chauvin is now on trial in Floyd’s death in that May 2020 incident. Weeks later, with protests spurred by Floyd’s death still stretching across the country, Magnus offered to resign after releasing video footage showing his officers restraining Carlos Ingram-Lopez, a 27-year-old Hispanic man, who died in their custody.
Magnus said he was offering to step down to show “my willingness to take accountability for these mistakes.” The city manager later rejected his request and he remained in the job.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Magnus “is one of the most effective chiefs along the U.S.-Mexico border.” He said he is a good communicator and manager, who cares about law enforcement as well as the community.
“He’s a smart cop,” Noorani said. “He has a big heart for his officers and his
Last fall, the Police Executive Research Forum, which works with departments nationwide, announced that it would give its leadership award to Magnus, saying he had “created new programs that serve as models for police agencies across the country.”
Among others, the group said, he pushed new processes to review incidents involving police and promoted officer wellness.
Magnus had to balance the community’s concern for public safety with sympathy for migrants, and the practical realities of living in a GOP-led state where leaders have often favored hard-line immigration policies. He wrote in an opinion piece for the Arizona Daily Star in 2019 that he was “proud to live in a city that is ‘welcoming to all,’ including our large immigrant population.”
But he said Tucson is not a “sanctuary city,” and instead had worked to ensure that the police did not engage in civil immigration enforcement and that crime victims were unafraid to come forward.
“We are now widely recognized as having one of the most rational, compassionate and comprehensive approaches to interacting with undocumented persons among states with similar laws,” he wrote.
Jaddou — Biden’s pick to lead USCIS, the legal immigration system — has worked on immigration policy for decades. She most recently led DHS Watch, an immigration policy watchdog for the advocacy group America’s Voice.
She also served as chief counsel to the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and citizenship from 2007 to 2011, then spent two years as a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department and was then the USCIS chief counsel from 2014 to 2017, during Obama’s second term.
Jaddou, the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Iraq, was born and raised in Chula Vista, Calif., and holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.
USCIS provides a complex network of benefits that includes the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, green cards and citizenship. The agency is also deeply involved in asylum cases and approvals for immigrants with temporary protected status.
Mayorkas ran USCIS for years under the Obama administration and has said that naturalizing new Americans is the agency’s most important duty. But USCIS — which is mostly funded by application fees paid by immigrants — has struggled financially in recent years, which the Trump administration blamed on a drop in applications during the pandemic.
But critics, including Jaddou, accused the last administration of foot-dragging on immigration applications and of threatening its workforce with mass furloughs.
“It’s time for Congress to save USCIS from the Trump administration who has driven USCIS into the ground with xenophobic policies that bankrupted the agency, leaving it woefully unprepared to ride out the fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jaddou tweeted in June 2020.