The president’s pick to lead Customs and Border Protection is getting his day in the spotlight. Joe Biden tapped Chris Magnus, a police chief from Tucson, AZ, to lead the CBP back in April – and now his confirmation process begins. How will the Senate view the chief’s history of open-borders activism in the Tucson Police Department? Biden’s first choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), David Chipman, failed to impress during his confirmation hearings, thanks to his many years of anti-gun efforts. Can yet another activist nominee hope to do any better?
An Unfortunate Record
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas praised Magnus as a “highly-regarded and accomplished professional with deep experience.” That’s true in two ways. First, he has worked in law enforcement since his dispatching days in Lansing, MI, back in 1989; since 1999, he has been police chief in Fargo, ND, Richmond, CA, and Tucson, AZ. The man is no stranger to law enforcement or leading a department.
But he’s also an old hand at activism when it comes to border security and immigration enforcement.
According to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which obtained documents from the time Magnus served as police chief in Richmond, Magnus has a long history of backing “sanctuary city” policies. The chief laid out department guidelines in a 2012 email, explaining: “This revision brings us into compliance with Richmond’s ‘Sanctuary City’ policy and further clarifies our Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) non-cooperation policy.”
He didn’t create the “Sanctuary City” policy, of course, but he did support it beyond “just following orders” by overhauling the police department’s rules. In 2015, Magnus actively advocated on behalf of the policy. He shared an article arguing against changing the city laws after Kate Steinle was murdered in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant. He called the article “relevant” and said it made “strong points.”
Flash forward to 2017, when Magnus had become chief of police for Tucson, AZ – and wrote an anti-Trump op-ed in The New York Times: “As the police chief here, I’m deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s campaign against ‘sanctuary cities,’ which refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.” That same year, Magnus and his police department argued against then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s directives to prioritize operations that would enable local law enforcement to deport criminals who were illegal aliens. He called such detainment and deportation unconstitutional in an interview with The Arizona Republic and argued that it would make the community less secure.
In 2020, Tucson pulled out of the Operation Stonegarden grant program, which gave money to police departments that cooperate on border security. According to Mayor Regina Romero, who was interviewed by local news at the time, the decision came from conversations with Magnus, which made it clear that “continuing to accept the grant under the administration of President Trump would ‘not make any sense based on the vision’ of the Police Department and City Council.”
A Special Irony
Those who see this man’s history and feel a sense of déjà vu aren’t wrong: The David Chipman nomination was similar. Both men have a long history of law enforcement relevant to the potential posting as well as a history of political activism. But while the nominations certainly seem indicative of a trend – Biden nominating left-wing activists for influential law enforcement posts – the Magnus case comes with its own special irony.
Thanks to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, Americans hold the right to keep and bear arms as unalienable and God-given as Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness – after all, the latter means nothing without the practical ability and authority to defend them. But the ATF has never been about defending that. It is, in fact, the purpose of the agency to ensure that no one – outside the government, of course – has uninfringed access to whatever type of arms they want and that some people have access to none at all.
While Chipman’s confirmation could have been devastating to the Second Amendment, it would, at least, have been in line with the agency’s true purpose. But an anti-border security cop in charge of a border security agency? That’s on another level entirely.
A Snowball’s Chance?
All it takes for a presidential nominee to get confirmed is for a simple majority of the Senate to vote “aye.” Even if 100% of the GOP rejects Magnus, he’ll get the job unless at least one Democrat decides he isn’t fit for the office. On that note, here’s the list of “Typical Assignments” from the CBP careers page:
- Detecting and preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States.
- Enforcing customs, immigration, and agricultural laws and regulations at U.S. ports of entry and preclearance locations worldwide.
- Preventing the illegal trafficking of people, narcotics, and contraband into the United States.
- Performing inspection, intelligence analysis, examination, and law enforcement activities including apprehension, detention, and arrest relative to arrival and departure of persons, conveyances, and merchandise at ports of entry.
- Conducting developmental level officer duties to protect the U.S. homeland, enforce federal laws, and efficiently facilitate legitimate trade and travel.
- Developing, planning, and participating in tactical operations.
- Interacting with carriers, other agencies, and foreign entities to exchange information and provide guidance on admissibility/compliance.
Magnus isn’t a fan of “[e]ntangling local policing with additional immigration enforcement responsibilities,” or at least that’s what he told The Arizona Republic in 2017. He also refused to work with ICE and considered the Trump administration’s “campaign against ‘sanctuary cities,’ which refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities,” deeply troubling anti-immigrant rhetoric and a reckless policy.
If Magnus hopes to have a snowball’s chance of making it through the confirmation hearings on top, he must convince the Senate that he can somehow lead the agency in performing all those duties in spite of his personal beliefs – which, as a matter of record, run counter to the CBP mission.
~ Read more from James Fite.