WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday approved President Biden’s choice to lead customs and border protection, in a key position overseeing one of the president’s first and biggest challenges: dealing with the historic spike in illegal crossings to the southern border of the country.
With the 50-47 vote, Chris Magnus, the Tucson, Arizona police chief, is set to become the first openly gay commissioner of the federal government’s largest law enforcement agency. He will also be the agency’s first confirmed chief since 2019. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote for.
Known as a reformist police chief, Mr. Magnus faces the daunting task of gaining the approval of the US Border Patrol, an agency championed by former President Donald J. Trump that has long been criticized for its excessive use of force and its inhuman treatment. migrants.
Mr. Magnus’ confirmation is a belated victory for the Biden administration as Republicans rally around border security as a key issue ahead of the 2022 midterm election and attack Mr. Biden as being too soft.
Mr Biden also faces pressure from immigration advocates over policies Mr Magnus will eventually oversee: the continued use of a public health rule that gives CBP agents the power to deport migrants, including those seeking asylum, and the recent court ruling restarting a Trump-era program that forces some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while US authorities decide their cases.
A vote on Mr. Biden’s candidate for head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Harris County, Texas – is expected this week. Both Mr. Magnus and Mr. Gonzalez have criticized Mr. Trump.
Mr. Magnus’ confirmation had been delayed under unusual circumstances. Presidential Party member Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon declined to schedule a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee until the Department of Homeland Security provides specific answers to questions about the issues. decision to send Federal law enforcement officers in downtown Portland, Oregon, last year during protests against the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The Biden administration has faced a sharp increase in illegal crossings across the country’s southern border, at times overwhelming border patrol officials. The administration has come under heavy criticism for its response to the thousands of black migrants – most of them from Haiti and Venezuela – who entered Del Rio, Texas in September. Images of border patrol officers on horseback appearing to surround migrants have gone viral, with some comparing them to the treatment of runaway slaves.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary for internal security, has promised a speedy investigation. But the investigative body, the Customs Professional Liability and Border Protection Office, could take months to come to a conclusion that there was fault in the officers’ actions.
At Mr Magnus’ confirmation hearing in October, he promised lawmakers he would be transparent about the findings.
“I have a long history of being transparent and sharing things with the public no matter what the outcome, because I think that’s how you maintain and build trust,” Mr. Magnus said at the time. , adding that after Del Rio, “the review tactics and training are certainly appropriate.
Conservatives are wary of Mr. Magnus’ pledge to enforce immigration laws because he has criticized some of the policies of the Trump administration.
And earning the trust of the employees of the Border Patrol, which has a strong union, and customs and border protection will not happen overnight.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, who knows Mr Magnus well, said he did not expect the new commissioner to make major policy changes to immediately address transparency and accountability issues. the agency.
“Police chiefs who enter an environment like this recognize that their learning curve has to increase, which means they have to listen a lot before doing anything,” Wexler said.
Mr. Magnus was able to work with unions in his previous jobs and was the head of the Police Union in the 1990s when he worked for the Lansing, Michigan Police Department.
He will be the second commissioner with local law enforcement training to lead customs and border protection. A former Seattle police chief, R. Gil Kerlikowske, held the post during part of the Obama administration.
Emilie Cochrane contributed reports.