Acknowledging that it has “been particularly difficult to be a CBP agent, and certainly a Border Patrol agent in the recent past,” President Biden’s nominee to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Senate Finance Committee in a Tuesday confirmation hearing that he aims to “help depoliticize this process” of changing policies and “build in resiliency as a key for helping our men and women, our hard-working men and women of the Border Patrol, be as effective as possible in their jobs.”
“I think it’s going to be important that the individuals who are making the policy decisions, which obviously include the secretary, the president and others, that they get accurate feedback from me based on what I’m seeing in terms of talking to the men and women at the border, in terms of talking people in border communities,” said Chris Magnus, the Tucson Police chief who was nominated to lead CBP in April and previously served as chief of police in Fargo, N.D., and Richmond, Calif.
CBP has not had a Senate-confirmed commissioner since 2019, when CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan assumed the duties of acting Homeland Security secretary and then resigned that fall. John Sanders only served in the acting commissioner role for fewer than three months before Mark Morgan was moved into the acting commissioner post and served in that capacity until the end of the Trump administration. Troy Miller, who served as director of field operations for CBP’s New York Field Office, has been serving as acting commissioner in the Biden administration.
Addressing the breadth of CBP’s responsibilities, Magnus told senators he is “acutely aware that CBP’s role in enforcing trade laws and facilitating trade goes well beyond the manufacturing sector.”
“If confirmed to lead this agency, I will work with this committee and with Congress to protect intellectual property, U.S. agriculture and the many products that Americans rely on. Addressing forced labor would also be one of my high priorities,” he said. “While it’s hard to imagine anything more antithetical to our core values as Americans, eliminating forced labor is more than a philosophical undertaking, it is a moral imperative. We must give full force to laws that punish this modern-day slavery while simultaneously facilitating trade for the overwhelming majority of companies who do business responsibly.”
The nominee called it “essential to recognize that what we think of as the border is not homogenous, and there’s no one solution that will provide us with perfect border security.”
“So if confirmed, I will do what I’ve always done in my professional career, which is to uphold the law,” he said. “I will expect without exception that all agency personnel be conscientious, fair and humane when enforcing the law… I believe that by working with Congress, the men and women who serve CBP, and its public- and private-sector partners, that we can build upon its many strengths to make the agency even better.”
Discussing the CBP’s human resources, Magnus said training “has to go all the way back to the academy level where people first start” and “all the way back to the traits and characteristics that you look for in the people that you hire.”
“If I was fortunate to be confirmed to this position, I would want to look all the way back to that stage to make sure we are looking for people who have the right qualities and skills to be the best possible members of CBP, that they receive the necessary training to do their jobs, and then the necessary supervision to help them move forward with that,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of “continuing to develop and modernize the resources that CBP has” such as cloud modernization.
Pressed on migration flows at the southern border, Magnus said that “we have some significant challenges at the border — the numbers are very high, and it is something that has to be addressed.” He told senators he would “totally commit” to testing migrants for COVID-19 as both a public health matter and humanitarian concern.
Asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) whether “sanctuary jurisdictions, meaning localities that refuse to comply with ICE detainer requests, are an impediment to enforcing federal immigration law,” Magnus replied that it is “very important that local communities do work with federal agencies that include ICE and the Border Patrol.”
“I think there have been some legitimate issues raised about the risk that communities may be in when they are enforcing detainers as opposed to making arrests,” he added. “We have been advised in several of the communities I worked in that, by our legal advisers and city attorneys, that we should have an arrest warrant to be holding individuals for ICE.”
In a 2019 op-ed, Magnus argued against a sanctuary city ballot initiative, writing that his department has “one of the most rational, compassionate and comprehensive approaches to interacting with undocumented persons among states with similar laws” and that clamping down on relationships with federal law enforcement would “make our entire community, including our undocumented residents, far less safe.” Previously, he criticized the Trump administration’s campaign against cities it deemed to be sanctuary jurisdictions.
“If confirmed, what measures would you take to ensure that the agency is prepared to handle any future influxes of migrants at the border?” asked Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
“Preparation is critical,” Magnus replied. “One of the things that I would look forward to doing is building the strongest possible relations with my Mexican counterparts and colleagues, so that we could have an ongoing line of communication, allowing Mexico to help play a role in addressing some of those issues along with us, to be able to share intelligence as it becomes available, and to again be working at the state and local level, whether it’s preparing, being more nimble, for example, with soft-sided structures, having adequate personnel available.”
“I’m encouraged that the Border Patrol is bringing on board Border Protection coordinators. And I think they’ve brought on about 400 of these at this point, which would make processing of individuals also something much more efficient than what we have now. So there are a lot of steps when it comes to preparation,” he continued. “If confirmed, there’s plenty to learn. I would want to dig in by talking to not only the sector chiefs and others in top leadership positions, but also those at the line level, the rank-and-file.”
Magnus later said “there’s no question” that in “some areas more than others such as the Rio Grande Valley… we absolutely do need more Border Patrol agents out on the line, doing what they were trained to do.”
The nominee told senators that federal officials “can do a better job with how individuals are processed, but key to this is that it is done humanely.”
“I don’t believe that we have to sacrifice efficiency for humanity. And so I think humanity has to be part of the discussion again, early and often throughout the careers of CBP members. This is something we talk a lot about in policing,” Magnus said. “We do our jobs enforcing the law, but how we engage with the public, even the public that we may be arresting, is what defines us as professionals and this is something that we have a moral obligation to do.”