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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Embattled top border official resigns under pressure

Chris Magnus, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. On Friday, he said he had been asked to resign but had refused.

By Eileen Sullivan

The commissioner of Customs and Border Protection submitted his resignation Saturday after a daylong standoff with his boss, the Homeland Security secretary, who just days earlier had demanded that he either step down or be fired.

The White House issued a brief statement Saturday evening acknowledging that President Joe Biden had accepted the resignation of the commissioner, Chris Magnus, less than a year after appointing him to run one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world. As commissioner, Magnus oversaw the United States’ international borders, a role that encompassed border management as well as customs and trade.

The Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, has not publicly explained why he insisted that Magnus step down so urgently, and there have been no allegations of wrongdoing.

The Biden administration has faced record-breaking illegal border crossings and struggled internally over how to deal with the challenge, which in the lead-up to the midterms was viewed as a political vulnerability with no quick solution.

Republicans have pledged to impeach Mayorkas for his management of the border if they regain control of the House.

In a statement Saturday evening, Magnus said, “I resigned because I believe this decision provides me with the best path for advancing my commitment to professional, innovative and community-engaged policing.”

It was an abrupt end to a bizarre episode that began Friday morning when Magnus said he had no plans to resign — a response that senior leaders at the Homeland Security Department had not expected. Magnus said Mayorkas had asked him to resign or face being fired Wednesday, telling him that he had lost confidence in him.

When Biden appointed Magnus, a former police chief with a reputation for bringing reform, he was the first openly gay commissioner of the agency. Democrats hoped his decades of experience running police departments and changing long-standing law enforcement cultures would bring what many had considered to be much-needed reform to the U.S. Border Patrol, an agency that is part of CBP.

The Border Patrol has long been criticized for its white male-dominated workforce and persistent problems with discrimination both inside the agency and in its treatment of migrants.

Magnus said that efforts he had made to address some of those issues were met with constant pushback from the Border Patrol, which, through its union, has harshly criticized the Biden administration for its border policies and also called for a Republican-led House to impeach Mayorkas. In the end, Magnus said, the secretary sided with the Border Patrol. The union said “good riddance” to Magnus in a Twitter post Friday.

“He was so busy chasing imaginary ‘culture’ problems in B.P., he forgot his primary job,” the union wrote. The union president has said that Magnus should have been focused on finding solutions to the high number of illegal border crossings. “B.P. doesn’t have a culture problem. It has a leadership problem, starting with Biden.”

In a message to the CBP workforce, Mayorkas said, “Commissioner Chris Magnus has resigned and left the agency. We are thankful to Commissioner Magnus for his contributions over the past year and wish him well.”

The deputy commissioner, Troy Miller, has returned to the role of acting commissioner, which he held before Magnus was confirmed by the Senate late last year.

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