President Joe Biden's pick to lead US Customs and Border Protection will testify before a Senate panel Tuesday and make his case for why he should lead the border agency amid one of the busiest years in two decades on the southern border.
Tucson, Arizona, police chief Chris Magnus' nomination had been delayed by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, who cited unanswered questions about the Portland protests last year. The Department of Homeland Security has since provided additional information, putting Magnus' nomination back on track.
The hearing comes as the border agency, already strained from months of increasing arrests, faces scrutiny over its handling of the sudden arrival of thousands migrants in Del Rio, Texas, last month and the continued use of a Trump-era public health order to rapidly expel migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border.
Biden tapped Magnus to head CBP in May. On Tuesday, Magnus plans to tout his border experience and commitment to trade, according to prepared remarks obtained by CNN. In his opening testimony, Magnus also acknowledges the challenges associated with heading the agency.
"More than a few colleagues, friends, and family members have asked me, 'What are you thinking?' Why would I choose to take on the important but challenging responsibility of leading CBP at this moment?" he'll say, according to his prepared remarks. "I want to make a difference."
US Border Patrol arrests for unlawful US-Mexico border crossings have jumped since Biden took office, leaving Magnus to inherit an agency that's being stretched to its limits. Total arrests for fiscal year 2021 likely topped 1.6 million -- the highest annual number since 2000, according to CBP data and a source familiar with the September data, which have not yet been officially released.
In mid-September, the Department of Homeland Security -- of which CBP is a part -- was caught off guard when thousands of migrants, primarily Haitians, arrived in Del Rio. People who had crowded into a makeshift camp under a bridge were left in squalor and exposed to the elements while the federal government scrambled to process and transport people out of the region.
During that time, video of Border Patrol agents on horse patrol aggressively confronting migrants surfaced, sparking public backlash as well as sharp condemnation from Biden and other senior administration officials.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing, despite assurances from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that it would be completed in days, not weeks.
If confirmed, Magnus will take the helm of the largest law enforcement agency and the second-largest revenue-collecting source in the federal government. He also served for 10 years as police chief for Richmond, California, and prior to that as police chief in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the department's biography.
The CBP commissioner is responsible for overseeing border security at the nation's airports and land border crossings, as well as the agency's vast trade and travel mission.
"I know all too well the impact that trade and its economic effects can have on America's communities. As a police officer in Lansing, Michigan, I saw firsthand what happened when the US auto industry struggled during the 80s and 90s," Magnus is expected to say. "If confirmed to lead this agency, I will work with this Committee and with Congress to protect intellectual property, US agriculture, and the many products that Americans rely upon."
Magnus will also address the agency's role in combating forced labor abroad, calling it one of his "high priorities."
The border agency hasn't had a confirmed leader since Kevin McAleenan resigned during the Trump administration. Troy Miller, a career official, has been serving as the acting commissioner since Biden took office. Under Miller's tenure, several high-profile career officials resigned, including former US Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott and CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another immigration agency under DHS, is also waiting for the Senate to confirm its nominee, Ed Gonzalez.
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