U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus resigned Saturday after top Biden administration officials threatened to fire the border chief if he refused to step down.
Magnus initially denied the resignation request from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who said he would recommend President Joe Biden dismiss Magnus after losing confidence in leadership at the border. However, following an interview with The Los Angeles Times, where Magnus expressed a lack of justification to give notice, he complied with the bid from DHS officials. But he said his defiance of an order not to meet with border patrol chiefs in El Paso this week, and his refusal to extend a “retention” bonus for Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, prompted Tuesday’s quit-or-be-fired ultimatum from Mayorkas.
“I resigned because I believe this decision provides me with the best path for advancing my commitment to professional, innovative, and community-engaged policing,” Magnus told The Los Angeles Times. “I appreciate having had this opportunity to serve and to work with many dedicated colleagues.”
Mayorkas reportedly thanked Magnus for his service in an email to the border patrol workforce, adding the agency would immediately report to deputy commissioner Troy Miller.
The White House confirmed Biden accepted the resignation letter from the leader of the nation’s largest enforcement agency, which employs more than 60,000 employees.
“President Biden appreciates Commissioner Magnus’ nearly forty years of service and the contributions he made to police reform during his tenure as police chief in three U.S. cities,” said press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement to NPR. “The President thanks Mr. Magnus for his service at CBP and wishes him well.”
Magnus, confirmed last year as the first openly gay border commissioner, began facing mounting pressure from Biden administration officials after more than a dozen House Republican lawmakers called for his resignation.
According to a Politico report, lawmakers accused Magnus of skipping White House events, falling asleep in meetings, preoccupying himself with the agency’s culture, and not doing enough to stem the flow of illegal immigrants under the Biden administration’s southern border crisis.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated five million people had crossed the border since the Biden administration took office and reversed many of former President Donald Trump’s border security measures, such as Title 42, which empowered border patrol agents to prohibit migrants from entering the country if the removal would prevent contagious diseases from spreading.
Magnus called the pandemic-era policy “comes at a heavy cost to many asylum seekers” fleeing to the United States from failing communist regimes.
In the Politico report, Magnus allegedly called on an emergency meeting last year with Mayorkas and other senior DHS officials following a list of grievances blaming Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies for the border crisis.
One of the five anonymous administration officials familiar with the meeting told Politico that Magnus wasn’t “in the game.”
“Every time there’s a meeting, and he’s in it,” the official said. “We’ll get to a conclusion, and Magnus will have some sidebar issue that he wants to raise, and we’re all like, ‘What the f*** is that about?'”
Magnus, however, denied the accusations to The Washington Post, adding he relocated to Washington, D.C. “because I care about this agency, its mission, and the goals of this Administration” rather than accepting the position as a resume builder.
Former Border Patrol chief Ron Vitiello, who led ICE under Trump, told The Los Angeles Times that the Biden administration has mishandled immigration policy, adding the publicity surrounding Magnus’ resignation request has been counterproductive and that it’s “a distraction that takes away from the hard work they are doing and the crisis they are in.”
Magnus told The Los Angeles Times that officials did not initially invite him to border policy meetings but would later be involved in most key discussions.
John Sandweg, a former top Obama administration-era Homeland Security Department official, told The Los Angeles Times that Mayorkas does not want to be faced with other problems while the border has “raging issues” rather cultural reforms.
Magnus, whose career in law enforcement included stints in Michigan, North Dakota, and California, was police chief in Tucson, Arizona, when Biden officials tapped him to be commissioner.
Hank Berrien contributed to this report.