Chris Magnus took the position of commissioner of the Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection knowing full well what kind of a position he was walking into. The allegations that his organization mistreats migrants, fails to attract females to the force, and the horrific state of the asylum system is no secret.
Then again, Magnus has experience dealing with these kinds of issues at the local level. A former police chief in Tucson, AZ, Magnus has seen first-hand how the system is geared towards favoring illegal immigrants. As a result, the struggle that law enforcement faces because of the current administration policies is unconscionable. Especially in border states like Arizona. Tucson is just over an hour north of the border, and as one of the closest cities in AZ, they get a mass influx of illegal immigrants arriving daily.
In an interview last week Magnus talked about the problems persisting at the border, and how they have been destroying morale. “There have always been periods of migrant surges into this country for different reasons, at different times. But I don’t think anybody disputes that the numbers are high right now and that we have to work as many different strategies as possible to deal with those high numbers.” These surges take their toll on the border patrol daily as many find themselves being attacked by the very migrants they are assigned to keep out.
Given his expertise, there are mixed reactions to his appointment to the position. Roy Villareal, chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector from early 2019 until late 2020 is one person who is against his nomination. Villareal claims he attempted to reach out to Magnus for an introduction while Magnus was the Tucson police chief but was ultimately ignored. Something he considered to be a sign of things to come. As a result, he can only recall three interactions with Magnus, and they were all during courtesy calls when the department was arresting members of the border patrol.
Others like Gil Kerlikowske feel otherwise. Kerlikowske is a former Seattle police chief who placed a major focus on the use of force during his tenure from 2014 to 2017. He has seen how thorough Magnus’ background on holding people accountable is, and he believes it was the right move to select him for the position.
Publicly the optics of Magnus’ career have been largely positive. He worked with nonprofits to help the homeless and created programs aimed at steering people away from drugs. His overhaul of the use-of-force policies was championed as groundbreaking, and he called former President Trump to the carpet for new laws that made migrants more reluctant to speak with police. Given the silent nature that permeates lower-income areas and migrant communities, these policies made people more fearful than ever to speak out.
Magnus has also been willing to stand on that same carpet for the actions in his department. During his final weeks as police chief, he pushed for the termination of an off-duty officer who shot and killed a suspected shoplifter in a wheelchair. He called it “a clear violation of department policy.” In turn, the officer did leave the department within the last month.
Additionally in 2020 Tucson PD had an in-custody death that they failed to make public for two months. Instead of deflecting the blame or refusing to take any responsibility for the death, Magnus offered his resignation. The city manager asked him to stay on. That kind of acceptance of mistakes and being willing to admit when your people did something wrong and to step on the carpet for their actions is exactly what Customs and Border Protection needs. For decades they have had a black eye for downplaying the situations, and that is something Magnus will not stand for. Instead, he will work to find solutions for his people as well as the American people.