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TPD Chief Magnus gets Biden nod to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection

President Joe Biden is nominating the head of Tucson's Police Department, Chris Magnus, to head the parent agency of the U.S. Border Patrol. Magnus was an outspoken critic of Trump administration border policies.

Magnus, Tucson's top cop since early 2016, will become the leader of the nation's largest law enforcement agency if he is confirmed by the Senate.

The pick of Magnus to be commissioner of Customs and Border Protection and other nominees for Department of Homeland Security posts was announced by the White House on Monday morning, after this report was first published.

Before coming to Tucson, Magnus was the chief of police in Richmond, Calif., a gritty industrial city in the Bay Area. He cultivated a reputation for being an ambitious, progressive chief there, and generated backlash from some of his officers by being photographed holding a Black Lives Matter sign at a protest.

Prior to his Richmond post, Magnus was chief in Fargo, N.D., and on the force in Lansing, Mich.

"In each of these cities Chief Magnus 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," a White House official said in a news release.

"I am, of course, very honored to be nominated by the president to lead Customs and Border Protection. I look forward to speaking with senators and hearing their thoughts and concerns," Magnus said.

Mayor Regina Romero — who was herself considered for a position in the Biden administration but is remaining in Tucson — congratulated Magnus, saying he "has developed a national reputation for his sensible, inclusive approach to policing that has always centered around community-building."

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Magnus dramatically offered to resign his Tucson position last June, during a press conference about the death of a man, 27-year-old Carlos Ingram-Lopez, in police custody. That incident, and the death of another man while be arrested by Tucson cops — Damien Alvarado, 29, was covered up for months before Magnus and top brass in the department probed further. TucsonSentinel.com broke the news of Ingram-Lopez's death and officers being pushed out of the department.

A committee of government officials and community representatives called for changes in TPD policies after those deaths, criticizing Magnus's department for issuing statements "biased in favor of defending police actions" and cited "indicators" of racism and "indifference to Latino life" in officers' actions.

City Manager Mike Ortega declined to consider letting Magnus go over the in-custody deaths.

Although he opposed a local "sanctuary city" initiative, Magnus was a staunch critic of President Donald Trump's border policies, and members of his administration, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and Mr. Sessions’s reckless policies ignore a basic reality known by most good cops and prosecutors," Mr. Magnus wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in 2017. "If people are afraid of the police, if they fear they may become separated from their families or harshly interrogated based on their immigration status, they won’t report crimes or come forward as witnesses."

Magnus joined Pima County officials in rejecting grants from Operation Stonegarden, which funds cooperation between local law enforcement and the Border Patrol.

CBP: America's largest law enforcement agency

TPD has fewer than 900 sworn officers, and about 300 civilian staffers.

Customs and Border Protection has more than 58,000 employees, including 45,000 sworn officers and agents. It's main subagency is the U.S. Border Patrol, with about 21,000 agents. CBP includes not only the Border Patrol, but also the Office of Field Operations, which controls the nation's ports of entry, and Air and Marine Operations, the agency's flight wing and boat flotilla.

The nomination of Magnus comes as Republican's have claimed that Biden faces a "crisis" on the border.

The number of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border surged in March to one of the highest monthly totals on record, and the almost 19,000 unaccompanied youth stopped there set a record, the latest data shows.

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CBP reported last week that single adults still made up the bulk of the 172,331 people apprehended at the border last month. But the number of unaccompanied minors doubled from February, to 18,890 in March, while the number of those traveling as families jumped 170 percent, from 19,587 in February to 53,623 in March.

Magnus' nomination will rankle the leadership of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents many Border Patrol agents.

In 2018, that union called Magnus "dangerous," and called him "an ultra-liberal social engineer" after the Tucson chief criticized the agency that June.

Magnus wrote that there were "troubling questions for police chiefs" because DHS was in the midst of separating asylum seeking children from their parents in an attempt to deter more migrants from coming, under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy.

"Is this the oath you took to serve and & protect? Is this humane or moral?," Magnus wrote at the time.

Art Del Cueto, the first vice president of the BP union in Southern Arizona, told TucsonSentinel.com on Monday morning that he didn't have an immediate comment on Magnus being nominated.

A spokesman for the Tucson Police Officers Association, the union that represents TPD officers, declined to comment on the nomination.

Magnus said in a statement issued by a TPD spokesman Monday afternoon that "As I've told our department members, serving as Tucson's chief of police has been, and continues to be, one of the best experiences of my career in policing. Tucson is a special community and TPD is a professional, community-engaged police department."

Magnus is declining interviews as the nomination process is underway, the statement said.

"The confirmation process is never a certainty. As the Senate moves forward with its deliberations, I remain committed to serving as your chief of police to the best of my ability," Magnus said.

Romero said in a Monday morning press release that Magnus has "always understood the importance of distinguishing the role of local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement and how critical this is to protecting community trust."

From the White House:

During his time in Richmond, Magnus played a key role in rebuilding community trust in law enforcement and dramatically reducing the number of shootings and homicides.  In Tucson, Magnus implemented de-escalation training, sentinel event review processes, and programs to promote officer health and wellness.  Because of Tucson’s proximity to the border, he has extensive experience in addressing immigration issues. Magnus grew up in Lansing, Michigan, the son of an immigrant from Oslo, Norway.  He received his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and his master’s degree in Labor Relations from Michigan State University. Magnus attended the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Executives in State and Local Government program.  He has been with his husband, Terrance Cheung, for 15 years.

Also being nominated Monday are:

  • John Tien, a former Obama administration National Security Council Senior Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as deputy secretary of Homeland Security
  • Jen Easterly, a cybersecurity expert at Morgan Stanley and the cyber policy lead of the Biden transition team, and former counterterrorism deputy at the National Security Agency, as director of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency
  • Ur Jaddou, an immigration lawyer with experience inside government agencies and at watchdog groups, as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Jonathan Meyer, a former deputy general counsel for DHS, as the agency's general counsel
  • Robert Silvers, a former deputy chief of staff for DHS, as the under secretary of Strategy, Policy, and Plans

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he is "excited that President Biden has nominated an extraordinary group of individuals for critical leadership positions" in DHS.

"They are highly regarded and accomplished professionals with deep experience in their respective fields. Together they will help advance the Department of Homeland Security's mission to ensure the safety and security of the American people. I look forward to working with the Senate in support of their swift confirmation," said Mayorkas.

From the statement issued by Romero's office:

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As an established immigrant-welcoming community and in response to SB 1070, mayor and Council directed a series of amendments to TPD's General Orders that protect victims and witnesses of crimes from arbitrary immigration status inquires, prohibit stops and detentions based on 'suspicions' of unlawful status, and other actions aimed at protecting the rights of our immigrant communities. I am grateful for the chief's leadership in implementing these reforms, as well as other efforts including streamlining TPD's U-visa process and the creation of a new refugee liaison program.

If Magnus is confirmed by the Senate, his replacement as TPD chief will be picked by the city manager, with the approval of the mayor and City Council.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said Monday that " "I've known Chief Magnus for a number of years, and as the son of two police officers myself, I have respected his approach to public service and law enforcement."

"With about 370 miles of U.S.-Mexico border and numerous ports of entry, Arizona requires strong, capable leadership at Customs and Border Protection to secure the border and ensure trade and commerce that is critical for our economy. As Tucson's police chief, Chief Magnus understands what it looks like when the federal government fails Arizona on border security and immigration, and that is the experience and perspective he can bring to this position," said Kelly, a Democrat.

"We're facing a humanitarian crisis at our border that is already straining Border Patrol in Arizona, and I look forward to speaking with Chief Magnus about his plans for Customs and Border Protection and providing a secure, orderly process at the border that prioritizes safety and public health,"
Kelly said.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema also welcomed the nomination.

"Chief Chris Magnus's nomination to lead Customs and Border Protection represents a positive step toward ensuring the administration understands and addresses the needs of Arizona communities," the Democrat said Monday afternoon.

"Our state pays the price for the federal government's failure to fix a broken immigration system. I'll continue working to ensure the administration takes meaningful steps to support our border communities, secure the border, and treat all migrants and unaccompanied children fairly and humanely - and I look forward to talking with Chief Magnus soon about his nomination," Sinema said.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Paul Ingram contributed to this report.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Magnus at a June 2020 press conference about the in-custody death of Carlos Ingram-Lopez.

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