Biden Border Pick Grilled on Immigration, Law Enforcement (1)

  • CBP commissioner oversees trade rules, border security
  • Magnus wants migrants tested for Covid-19, vaccinated

(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)

Critics of President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration got their first chance Tuesday to examine his nominee to head a key border agency.

Chris Magnus, the president’s pick to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection, appeared before the Senate Finance Committee, where he faced aggressive questioning from Republicans concerned about how the Biden administration is managing record numbers of unauthorized border crossings.

Photo: Rod Lamkey/CNP/Bloomberg
Chris Magnus, the nominee to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 19, 2021.

Magnus, who’s currently police chief in Tucson, Ariz., would take the helm of CBP at a tumultuous time, as the Biden administration struggles to respond to increased border encounters and reopens ports of entry to nonessential travel. The agency hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed leader since 2019, and Magnus is likely to face a tight confirmation battle.

“It is essential to recognize that what we think of as the border is not homogeneous, and there is no one solution that will provide us perfect border security,” Magnus said during opening remarks. “If confirmed, I will do what I have always done in my professional career—uphold the law.”

Biden Border Pick’s Nomination in Motion as Democrat Drops Hold

Magnus added that he will expect all agency personnel to be “conscientious, fair, and humane when enforcing the law.” Magnus’s husband, Terrance Cheung, immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong.

Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the committee’s top Republican, said CBP’s workload is “staggering” in normal times, and Magnus, if confirmed, will face the added responsibility of handling the fraught situation at the border.

Senate Finance has jurisdiction over the CBP commissioner nomination due to the agency’s broad responsibilities for enforcing trade laws and ensuring the flow of legal commerce across borders. Lawmakers pressed Magnus on how he would try to help reinforce severely strained American supply chains and how he would work to block imports of goods produced with forced labor.

Immigration Debate

The hearing swiftly became a forum for debate over immigration and border security as Republicans and Democrats alike demanded answers on how Magnus would approach migrant apprehensions and pandemic-related restrictions on border crossings.

CBP’s Border Patrol faced recent public scrutiny for its treatment of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) referenced the incident in opening remarks and emphasized that “enforcing our immigration laws and treating people humanely are not mutually exclusive—period.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Magnus to ensure the results of the investigation into the treatment of Haitians are shared publicly. He committed to pushing for transparency.

Haitian Treatment Spikes Pressure on Biden Immigration Policies

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) pressed Magnus to explain how CBP, under his watch, would address “chaos” at the southern border. Magnus said his approach be twofold: seeking to move some people across the border more efficiently to make asylum claims, while trying to prevent others from attempting to cross.

Magnus told senators he believes CBP should test migrants for Covid-19 and require vaccination before they’re released into the U.S., something the agency isn’t doing now.

He rebuffed efforts by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) to get him to call the border situation a crisis. “The situation is very serious, regardless of what we call it,” Magnus said.

Border Security Team

Some outside critics have urged Congress to oppose the nomination. The Immigration Reform Law Institute, which says it’s against “unchecked mass migration,” slammed Magnus for denouncing Trump-era immigration enforcement policies and once holding a Black Lives Matter sign.

Senate confirmation of Magnus would give the Biden administration a key member of its immigration and border security team as several other important roles remain open.

Homeland Agency Urged to Make Immigration Fixes Without Congress

The nominee to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ed Gonzalez, hasn’t yet gotten a vote on the Senate floor. The Department of Homeland Security also has a vacancy for assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, a position that isn’t subject to Senate approval.

The Magnus nomination was delayed for months as Wyden pressed DHS and the Justice Department to provide information about federal law enforcement personnel’s deployment to Portland, Ore., protests last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com

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