President Joe Biden’s pick to run border security has tweeted or spoken regularly against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and opposed a border wall. 

Chris Magnus, the police chief of Tucson, Arizona, is Biden’s nominee for commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Magnus also has cited research by the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, backed free injection sites for drug addicts, and expressed support for law enforcement building relationships with all immigrants, “documented and undocumented alike.”

Though not inherently a political actor as Tucson’s police chief since 2016, Magnus regularly made public comments about political issues of the day. 

Last July, he criticized Department of Homeland Security agents who were deployed to respond to urban riots. 

“This activity—I won’t even dignify it by calling it policing—is an affront to constitutional, professional law enforcement,” Magnus tweeted. “Cammo—Seriously? No visible patches? No name tags? Unmarked vehicles?  What is this—some authoritarian regime?”

Last Nov. 16, well after sordid scandals emerged regarding the Southern Poverty Law Center, Magnus seemed to endorse the organization’s research. 

The SPLC is a left-leaning group that frequently labels organizations it doesn’t agree with as “hate groups,” lumping some mainstream conservative organizations with the Ku Klux Klan or Nazi organizations.

The police chief’s tweet cited a New York Times story quoting the Southern Poverty Law Center as saying, “It’s important to note that, because of the nature of hate crime reporting, the FBI’s annual report vastly understates the real level of hate crimes in the country.” 

It is not clear, of course, whether quoting from a news article without comment means that Magnus endorses the sentiment of SPLC, which many observers would not agree legitimately “tracks hate groups.” 

In another example, Magnus tweeted about the positive side of drug injection sites for addicts, quoting from a National Public Radio story.  

“Most studies show that supervised injection sites can drive down fatal overdoses. These cites are credited w/restricting the spread of infectious diseases,” Magnus tweeted. “Advocates say the facilities help move more people into treatment. The AMA [American Medical Association] has endorsed them.”

Magnus did not respond to phone and email inquiries Thursday from The Daily Signal. 

In a New York Times interview earlier this week, the chief denied that he was a partisan.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating how hyperpartisan all these issues can become, but I want to say from the very start, I am no ideologue and I do want to make a difference on things,” Magnus told the Times. 

Magnus became police chief in Tucson after gaining some notoriety and glowing national media coverage for reforms he made as police chief in Richmond, California, to improve race relations there. He took that job in 2006. 

Before that, Magnus was police chief of Fargo, North Dakota, beginning in 1999. This came after 15 years with the police department in Lansing, Michigan. 

He also gained some national attention for holding a Black Lives Matter sign in 2014 in Richmond, California. 

Magnus has been involved in national policy before, testifying in 2015 before President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He has been an expert witness for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. 

“In each of these cities Magnus developed a reputation as a progressive police leader who focused on relationship-building between the police and community, implementing evidence-based best practices, promoting reform, and insisting on police accountability,” said the White House press release Monday announcing Biden’s intent to nominate him. 

Today, the Biden administration is facing scrutiny for conditions at detention facilities for illegal immigrants at the border. In February 2020, Magnus criticized conditions at detention facilities during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Earlier, on June 1, 2019, Magnus tweeted: “This is a level of inhumanity and mistreatment of human beings that should shock the conscience of any citizen and law enforcement agency in this country.”

In apparent support of amnesty for illegal immigrants, Magnus tweeted on Feb. 9, 2019: “Imagine what it’d be like if you were brought here as a child, grew up here, pay taxes here, only know here—yet have no path to citizenship.”

Magnus backed providing illegal immigrants with visas as a means to encourage crime reporting in a May 14, 2019, post on Twitter. 

The chief expressed support for anti-bias training for police in a January 2019 tweet, a policy that could extend to his position heading Customs and Border Protection if he is confirmed by the Senate.

If confirmed, Magnus could have a rocky relationship with Border Patrol officers. In a Facebook post in June 2018, National Border Patrol Council Local 2544, the union representing officers in the Tucson area, asserted that Magnus “encourages anarchy.” 

“If law enforcement is now free to pick and choose which laws they want to enforce based on their personal ‘morals’ and political beliefs, this country is in one hell of a mess,” the Border Patrol union said in the Facebook post, adding:

Chris Magnus is an ultra-liberal social engineer who was given a badge and a gun by the City of Tucson.  …  Chris Magnus is dangerous. He is preaching anarchy and encouraging police officers to commit dereliction of duty. He is supposed to staunchly defend the rule of law. He routinely crosses the line between politician, social engineer, liberal activist and ‘police chief.’

This week, Magnus acknowledged a need to listen to what those who soon could work under him have to say. 

“I know much is made of how Border Patrol might feel about my nomination, and I want to say right off that I do recognize that a Border Patrol or customs agent is doing a very difficult job,” Magnus told The New York Times. “I’m going to be making it a priority to get to know the people doing that job, to learn from them and to try and help them.”

Magnus faced scrutiny from immigrant rights groups last year after the Tucson Police Department took two months to release body camera footage of the death of Carlos Ingram-Lopez, 27, who repeatedly had asked for water. 

According to news reports, Lopez was intoxicated, having a mental health crisis, and running around the house naked when his grandmother called 911 in April 2020. Police officers chased Lopez to the garage, handcuffed him, and placed him in a face-down position for 12 minutes, according to the Times. 

An autopsy found that the cause of Lopez’s death was cardiac arrest and no charges were brought against the officers who took him into custody, although three resigned. 

Magnus said the delay in releasing the video was due to bureaucratic problems. 

In a Nov. 5 tweet that likely wouldn’t have a bearing on his position at CBP, but expressed a politically charged view, Magnus called for Google to ban former Trump White House aide Steve Bannon. 

Google owns YouTube, where Bannon has a channel. It wasn’t clear whether Magnus was referring to YouTube, or wanted to make it impossible to find a Bannon link through a Google search. 

“Law enforcement should condemn ANY political operative for advocating violence, such as Steve Bannon saying the heads of FBI Dir. [Chris] Wray & Dr. [Anthony] Fauci be placed on pikes,” Magnus wrote on Twitter. “Google must also be condemned for allowing Bannon’s channel to remain online. This isn’t politics, it’s criminal.”

In a follow-up tweet, Magnus wrote: “It doesn’t matter which party or ideology the individuals who incite this kind of violence belong or subscribe to, it’s a step way too far. This is how people get hurt—even killed. Absolutely unacceptable.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Biden’s nomination of Magnus to head Customs and Border Protection. 

In written testimony to that committee on Dec. 12, 2018, Magnus opposed Trump’s construction or reinforcement of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border:

Tucson is in Pima County, Arizona, the 6th largest county in the U.S. Last year, our Republican elected sheriff, Mark Napier, who has the responsibility for policing a county with 125 miles along the border, told lawmakers they would be better off giving a fraction of the estimated billions it would take to build the wall to law enforcement. He said, ‘I think it’s kind of a medieval solution to a modern problem, 10,000 years ago we were building walls around things, and here we are in 2017, and this is the best idea we can come up with?’ I agree with Sheriff Napier, as do many other law enforcement leaders.

In responding Dec. 19, 2018, to a questionnaire from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Magnus said it is important for police departments to have strong relationships with immigrants, regardless of their legal status. 

“There are many reasons to foster strong relationships with our immigrant communities,” Magnus wrote, adding:

The following list, while not all inclusive, highlights some of these:

—Immigrants (documented and undocumented alike), as well as the family and friends of immigrants, need to feel safe coming forward to report crimes and cooperate as witnesses to crimes without fear.

—From a crime deterrence standpoint it’s critical we avoid creating a subgroup of victims who are easily preyed upon because they are afraid to report crimes due to the threat that they or a family member will be deported.

—It’s important to ensure this vulnerable population will appear in court as needed to testify as victims or key witnesses in both civil and criminal cases rather than fearing the entire criminal justice system.

—Our intention is to partner with the residents of all neighborhoods in the community, regardless of documentation status, so we can make very area of the city as safe as possible through crime prevention initiatives and relationship building. 

—The immigrant population contributes to the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the entire community. It is critical they have a positive perception of the police in order to maximize the many contributions they can make to our city.

In a December 2017 op-ed in The New York Times, Magnus criticized Trump and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions while defending sanctuary cities, which refuse to help federal officials enforce U.S. immigration law. He also said that Tucson was “not technically a sanctuary city.” 

Magnus wrote in the Times:

I’m deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s campaign against ‘sanctuary cities,’ which refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. Washington is trying to retaliate against them by withholding funding for things like crime prevention, drug treatment and mental health programs. … 

The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and Mr. Sessions’s reckless policies ignore a basic reality known by most good cops and prosecutors.

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