National Security

Democrat stalls Biden’s border nominee

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Thursday, July 15, 2021 to discuss the Child Tax Credit payments being sent out.
Greg Nash

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is stalling President Biden’s nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in an effort to unearth more details about government surveillance of protesters in Portland last summer.

Biden nominated Tucson, Ariz., Police Chief Chris Magnus to lead CBP in April, tapping a vocal critic of former President Trump’s immigration policies to lead the agency.

While Wyden congratulated Magnus on his nomination earlier this year, his role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which conducts oversight of CBP, gives him a perch to push for answers amid reports the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) surveilled both protesters and journalists covering the demonstrations.

“Six months into the new administration, the Department[s] of Homeland Security and Justice have failed to answer basic questions about how the Trump administration misused federal resources to stoke violence against peaceful protesters in my hometown,” Wyden said in a statement.

“While it is clear that Customs and Border Protection faces pressing issues, as the senior senator from Oregon, I am unable to advance this nominee until DHS and DOJ give Oregonians some straight answers about what they were up to in Portland last year, and who was responsible,” he said.

Wyden had previously sent a letter to both DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking information about various efforts under the Trump administration as protesters were demonstrating following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

While the agencies sent some information to Wyden’s office, they deemed the response insufficient.

Wyden is not the first lawmakers to stall nominees under Biden, but he is the first Democrat. Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) have stalled DHS nominees due to concerns over the U.S-Mexico border. And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) attempted to block Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

DHS, however, said it hopes Wyden will schedule the confirmation hearing soon.

“Secretary Mayorkas has directly communicated with Senator Wyden and looks forward to working with him to schedule a confirmation hearing for Chris Magnus, who is nominated to serve as the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as soon as possible,” the agency said in a statement.

“Secretary Mayorkas has also directed a Department-wide review to ensure that all DHS law enforcement personnel receive appropriate training and operate pursuant to policies in keeping with best practices and law. DHS is committed to respecting the rights of all individuals who peacefully exercise their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly,” it said.

Magnus is a somewhat unorthodox pick to lead a federal agency. White and gay, he has spent the majority of his career leading local police departments in several cities, previously serving in similar roles in Richmond, Calif., and Fargo, N.D., before landing in Tucson.

The longtime police chief made headlines during his time in California when he held a “Black lives matter” sign while on the job at a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The photographs of him holding the sign while chatting with protesters landed him in trouble with the Richmond Police Officers Association, which said the move violated state laws against politicking while in uniform.

“It certainly wasn’t intended to be a political statement,” Magnus told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “It was intended to be a humane statement.”

During his time in Tucson, Magnus was also critical of Trump’s immigration policies.

“The administration’s crackdown on immigrants is already having a chilling effect on police-community relations here. Many community members have told me that Latinos are not turning to us for help or working with us as often as they have in the past. Their growing sense of fear and distrust is clearly a consequence of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” Magnus wrote in a 2017 op-ed in The New York Times

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Border Chris Magnus Customs and Border Protection Donald Trump Immigration James Lankford Jeff Sessions Joe Biden Josh Hawley Ron Wyden

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