Joe Biden nominates gay police chief for top customs and border patrol job

Chris Magnus, a cop in a suit, speaking into reporters' microphones

Joe Biden has tapped out gay police chief Chris Magnus for the top job in charge of the US customs and border patrol.

Magnus currently leads the police force in Tucson, Arizona, where his proximity to the border has given him “extensive experience in addressing immigration issues,” Fox News said.

He’s believed to be the first gay police chief to marry in the US. Magnus made national headlines in 2014 after attending a Black Lives Matter protest in uniform after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We support people’s rights to peacefully protest. We have a lot of respect for all lives in our community, Black, brown, everyone,” he told Richmond Confidential at the time. “Our goal is to promote and build the strongest relationships possible between the police and the community.”

Later in 2020, at the height of the racial justice movement, he offered his own resignation after releasing video footage of a man who died in Tucson police custody.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating how hyperpartisan all these issues can become, but I want to say from the very start, I am no ideologue and I do want to make a difference on things,” he told the New York Times on Monday.

Before moving to Tucson Chris Magnus served as police chief in Richmond, California from 2006 to 2015. During his tenure he was credited with hiring more women and minorities, increasing communication between the police and the community, and improving police accountability.

By the time he left, 60 per cent of the Richmond police department’s active police officers were non-white, and almost all the officers who were there when he started had left.

“It’s easier to get new people in a department than it is to get a new culture in a department,” he said at the time.

The biggest opposition to Magnus’ confirmation will probably come from current border agents, who are unlikely to be won over by his public criticism of Trump’s “reckless” immigration policies.

Writing in a New York Times op-ed in 2017, the police chief accused Trump and then-attorney general Jeff Sessions of hindering police efforts to crack down on crime.

“The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and Mr Sessions’s reckless policies ignore a basic reality known by most good cops and prosecutors,” he said.

“If people are afraid of the police, if they fear they may become separated from their families or harshly interrogated based on their immigration status, they won’t report crimes or come forward as witnesses.”

Last year, he declined to accept homeland security “Stonegarden” grants issued to local police departments that assist the federal government on border enforcement, after the Trump administration refused to allow a portion of the funds to be spent on humanitarian aid for asylum seekers.

Chris Magnus acknowledged that he has a lot of work to do in repairing relations with border patrol if he is confirmed for the top role.

“I know much is made of how border patrol might feel about my nomination,” he said, “and I want to say right off that I do recognise that a border patrol or customs agent is doing a very difficult job.

“I’m going to be making it a priority to get to know the people doing that job, to learn from them and to try and help them.”