President Biden’s pick to lead the country’s top border agency was confirmed Tuesday on a near party-line vote in the Senate, installing someone who’s argued for a more lenient approach toward illegal immigration.
Chris Magnus, chief of police in Tucson, Arizona, was approved as commissioner of Customs and Border Protection on a 50-47 vote. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, sided with Democrats in backing him.
Mr. Magnus will take over an agency reeling from an unprecedented surge of illegal immigration, which most analysts say was triggered by relaxed border policies. Reducing those record numbers will be difficult, given the political constraints on President Biden.
The new commissioner’s backers said that as a police chief in a major city less than a hundred miles from the border, Mr. Magnus understands how to balance safety with compassion.
“His prioritization of security and human dignity is the approach CBP needs as it works toward orderly, secure and compassionate border solutions,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
But Mark Morgan, who served as commissioner of the agency in the latter part of the Trump administration, said Mr. Magnus will struggle to solve the border mess.
“Magnus is simply the wrong person for this critical federal law enforcement position,” Mr. Morgan said. “In recent testimony before this same Senate, he refused to call the crisis what it is — a crisis — and only grudgingly admitted that the Biden administration’s policy of non-enforcement might be driving the crisis.”
Mr. Morgan also said Mr. Magnus has opposed the border wall, though the police chief admitted in his confirmation hearing that he’s aware Border Patrol agents say there are places where more barriers are needed.
CBP has been without a confirmed commissioner since early 2019, when President Trump plucked his then-commissioner to become acting Homeland Security secretary.
Mr. Biden now has confirmed picks at CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles legal immigration applications.
Still awaiting confirmation is a pick to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government’s deportation and interior immigration agency.