Chris Magnus confirmed as head of Customs and Border Protection

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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday approved President Biden’s choice to lead Customs and Border Protection, filling a key post that oversees one of the president’s first and greatest challenges: managing the historical tip during illegal crossings at the southern border of the country.

With the vote 50-47, Chris Magnus, the chief of police in Tucson, Arizona, 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 leader since 2019. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote for it.

Known as a reforming police chiefMr. Magnus faces the daunting task of obtaining approval from 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 inhumane treatment of immigrants.

Mr. Magnus’ confirmation is a late victory for the Biden administration as Republicans rally around border security as a key issue ahead of the 2022 midterm elections and attack Mr. Biden’s immigration policies like too sweet.

Mr Biden also faces pressure from immigration advocates over the policies Mr Magnus will eventually oversee: the continued use of a public health rule which gives CBP officers the power to quickly remove migrants, including those seeking asylum, and the recent court-ordered reboot of a Trump-era program that forces some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while U.S. authorities decide their cases.

A vote on Mr. Biden’s nominee to lead immigration and customs enforcement – Sheriff Ed González of Harris County, Texas – is expected this week. Both Mr. Magnus and Mr. Gonzalez have criticized Mr. Trump.

Confirmation of Mr. Magnus had been delayed under unusual circumstances. A member of the presidential party, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, refused to schedule a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee until the Department of Homeland Security provides specific answers to questions about the decision to send federal law enforcement officers in downtown Portland, Oregon last year during demonstrations protesting the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

The Biden administration has faced a surge in illegal crossings at the country’s southern border, at times overwhelming Border Patrol officials. The administration has been heavily criticized for its response to thousands of Black migrants — most of Haiti and Venezuela — which crossed in Del Rio, Texasin September. Images of Border Patrol agents on horseback appearing to corral migrants has gone viral, with some comparing it to the treatment of runaway slaves.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary, promised a quick investigation. But the investigating body, the Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Accountability, could take months to come to a conclusion about whether there was wrongdoing in the officers’ actions.

During 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 regardless of the outcome because I think that’s how you maintain and build trust,” Mr Magnus said at the time. , adding that after Del Rio, “looking at tactics and training is certainly appropriate.

Conservatives are wary of Mr. Magnus’ commitment to enforcing immigration laws because he was critical of some of the policies under the Trump administration.

And gaining the trust of employees of 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 the transparency and accountability issues of the agency.

“Police chiefs coming into an environment like this recognize that their learning curve has to increase, and that means listening a lot before they do anything,” Wexler said.

Mr. Magnus has been able to work with unions in his previous jobs, and he was head of the police union in the 1990s when he worked at 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, served in that role for part of the Obama administration.

Emily Cochrane contributed report.

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