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Senate confirms Chris Magnus as CBP commissioner

Chris Magnus testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Oct. 19.
Chris Magnus testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Oct. 19. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
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The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to be the next U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, installing a new leader for the country’s largest law enforcement agency at a time when immigration arrests along the Mexico border have hit record levels.

Magnus was confirmed by a 50-47 vote that split mostly along party lines, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voting with Democrats. CBP has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since 2019.

Magnus, 61, developed a reputation as a reform-minded law enforcement commander during stints in Fargo, N.D., Richmond, Calif., and Tucson, where he became chief in 2016. Magnus will be CBP’s first openly gay commissioner.

President Biden nominated Magnus in April, picking him to lead an agency with more than 60,000 border agents, customs officers and other employees, and whose enforcement practices were a focus of Democrats’ anger during the Trump administration.

“Wherever Chris Magnus goes, he leaves the place better,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington think tank that promotes best practices among law enforcement agencies.

“I think CBP will be the beneficiary of Chris’s leadership and good common sense,” said Wexler, who said he’s known Magnus for many years. “He’ll bring creativity and leadership to a position that needs it.”

In the 10 months since Biden took office, Border Patrol agents have been overwhelmed by a historic migration surge, and the 1.7 million border arrests recorded by the agency during the 2021 fiscal year were an all-time high. Republican lawmakers have pummeled Biden for his border policies, but the president has also frustrated immigrant advocates and some Democrats by leaving in place some of his predecessor’s enforcement measures.

They include the Title 42 public health law that allows U.S. agents to rapidly expel border-crossers in a matter of hours, which generally prevents them from seeking protection under U.S. asylum laws. This week Biden also reinstated the “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, under federal court order.

The policy, which President Donald Trump implemented in 2018, requires asylum seekers to return across the border and wait outside the United States while their asylum cases are processed. Biden has called the policy inhumane and has vowed to end it.

Republican lawmakers who opposed Magnus said they did not believe he would vigorously enforce U.S. immigration laws, and bristled during confirmation hearings in October when he declined to characterize the current migration surge as a “crisis.”

Magnus told senators during the hearing that immigration was a personal matter for him because his father was an immigrant from Norway, and his husband, Terrance Cheung, came to the United States from Hong Kong.

He pledged to take a nonpartisan approach to immigration enforcement. “I pride myself on being a pragmatic and bipartisan problem-solver,” Magnus wrote in prepared testimony.