Tucson Police Chief Tapped To Head Customs And Border Protection

By Michel Marizco
Published: Monday, April 12, 2021 - 12:41pm
Updated: Tuesday, April 13, 2021 - 7:41am

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Chris Magnus
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus speaks during a press conference on Nov. 2, 2018.

The Biden administration tapped Tucson’s police chief to oversee its largest law enforcement agency. 

Chris Magnus has been Tucson’s chief since 2016 and would serve as commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security arm that manages the Border Patrol and Customs officers at the nation’s ports. But it’s the border patrol agency part that may prove contentious. Magnus sparred with CBP and Homeland Security during Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Magnus didn’t support a measure to label Tucson a sanctuary city in 2019. But last year, he pulled the Police Department out of a border security grant program known as Operation Stonegarden, saying it wasn’t in keeping with the community’s expectations of police role in federal immigration policy. The Border Patrol’s union, which was a staunch backer of Trump’s, has sparred with Magnus over local enforcement operations as well. 

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema called his nomination a positive step. And Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said she’s supported his nomination for the past month, and said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris seek to manage the border differently than their predecessors. “They were very clear when they were campaigning, their intention to have a different policy for our border, both in how we treat immigrants and asylum seekers and how we deal with the previous administration’s construction of a border wall," she said.

She also pointed out two programs the department implemented under Magnus, a refugee liaison program and helping to streamline the department's U-visa process, a program established to help nonimmigrant victims of certain crimes.

Last summer, Magnus offered the city his resignation after a man died in police custody as Black Lives Matter movement spread across the country following a spree of Black men and women killed by law enforcement. Magnus at the time said the officers involved in Carlos Ingram Lopez's death didn't act maliciously but also didn't handle the incident as they were trained. He said, "To demonstrate my willingness to take accountability for these mistakes, I am offering my resignation to the mayor, the city council and the city manager which they can accept or handle as they deem appropriate."

When Magnus served in Richmond, California, in 2014, he joined protesters against the deaths of two Black men at the hands of police, Eric Gardner and Michael Brown, holding up a Black Lives Matter sign, earning support and condemnation.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kyrsten Sinema's name. 

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