Top border official says he was asked to resign

Top border official says he was asked to resign

World News


The Customs and Border Protection commissioner said Friday that he had been asked to step down but was refusing to do so, in what appears to be the Biden administration’s first attempted shake-up after the midterm elections.

The commissioner, Chris Magnus, said both Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, and the department’s deputy secretary asked him to resign or face being the first political appointee to be fired by President Joe Biden. Magnus has been in the position for less than a year.

“I want to make this clear: I have no plans to resign as CBP commissioner,” Magnus, the head of the agency, said in a statement shared with The New York Times. He said the Department of Homeland Security cut off his access to his Customs and Border Protection Twitter account. Magnus, 62, said he intends to go to work Monday.

As commissioner of the agency, Magnus oversees border policies ranging from illegal crossings to legitimate customs and trade. He also oversees the U.S. Border Patrol, which has a union that has been outspoken in its dislike of the Biden administration, the Homeland Security secretary and Magnus, over border security management.

Magnus said Mayorkas told him earlier this week that he needed to resign because he had lost confidence in him, in part because he was making things difficult for Raul Ortiz, the chief of the Border Patrol. Magnus did not give Ortiz a bonus and ask him to stay on beyond his approaching retirement. Magnus said that decision was based on Ortiz’s refusal to follow his directions to put in place several of his policies.

The message from the secretary, Magnus said, was that Ortiz is an important figure at a time when the country is facing major border enforcement and immigration policy issues.

The Department of Homeland Security, the White House and Ortiz declined to comment.

Magnus’ refusal to resign and the unusual public disclosure of the ordeal exposed the extraordinary challenge the Biden administration has faced during a period of record-breaking illegal border crossings and internal strife over how to how to deal with it. For months before the midterm elections, the White House had sought to avoid publicly addressing the border, viewing it as a political vulnerability with no easy solution.

The request for Magnus’ resignation comes as Democrats have been enjoying a wave of relief after the elections, when they did not lose as many seats as many observers had expected. Despite concerns that the situation at the border would be a top issue for voters, exit polling suggested inflation and abortion were more salient.

Mayorkas, whom Republicans have pledged to impeach if they regain control of the House, is scheduled to appear before several committees next week on Capitol Hill.

The Border Patrol union, which represents about 90% of agents eligible to belong, has also called for Mayorkas to be impeached. The union president, Brandon Judd, said members support Magnus’ removal as well.

In 2021, Biden tapped Magnus, a former police chief with a reputation for bringing reform and culture changes, to run Customs and Border Protection, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world with more than 60,000 employees. He is the first openly gay commissioner of the agency.

The Los Angeles Times first reported that Magnus had been asked to resign.

A report by Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee in October 2021 found that Customs and Border Protection has tended to dole out lighter discipline to reprimanded agents than what was recommended by its discipline review board. The Border Patrol, in particular, has come under fire for a culture in which discrimination and mistreatment of migrants have persisted.

Multiple administrations have tried to enforce more accountability onto the agency and add layers of oversight.

But when Magnus took the helm of Customs and Border Protection eight months after he was nominated, the agency was in the midst of trying to manage a spike in illegal migration at the southwestern border during the pandemic, which posed overwhelming operational challenges for border officials. Campaign promises to repeal the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies and rein in Border Patrol agents appeared to evaporate.

Border Patrol agents, who are the first line of defense at the country’s international borders, are among the department’s most outspoken critics of Mayorkas’ and the Biden administration’s policies. Magnus said policies he has worked to advance have been weighed against how much they would damage the already low morale at the agency.

Last month, a Politico article described a pattern of a lack of engagement on Magnus’ part, citing anonymous administration officials. They said he missed key meetings or fell asleep during them, and was too focused on overhauling the Border Patrol. Magnus disclosed to Politico that he has multiple sclerosis, but he has pushed back against accusations that he is not engaged. He said that he had previously told senior officials at the department about his condition but that it was not widely known.

Judd said that he was sympathetic to Magnus’ health issues but that they appeared to be limiting his ability to run the agency.

“If you’re not physically able to perform the functions, you shouldn’t be performing as the commissioner,” Judd said.

After the Politico article was published, Magnus said that it became clear to him that he was being set up to take the blame for the situation on the border and that the role of commissioner appeared to be just a “figurehead” post.

He said he took the job with the direction to bring change to the agency. But when he tried to do that, he was only met with pushback.

“This is not a place that is willing to tackle change,” Magnus said Friday in an interview with the Times.





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