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Senate confirms Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus as Customs and Border chief

The U.S. Senate voted 50-47 Tuesday to confirm Chris Magnus as head of Customs and Border Protection, and the Tucson City Council immediately chose his replacement as chief of police. 

Magnus' confirmation came almost entirely on partisan lines; Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joined with Democrats in approving it. Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas and James Lankford of Tennessee and Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont were absent. 

Appointed by President Joe Biden, Magnus will oversee the Border Patrol and the customs officers at legal ports of entry, such as those in Nogales and Douglas. The job includes managing a budget of $15 billion and more than 60,000 employees who arrest migrants who cross the border illegally; catch drugs smuggled across the border; search for counterfeit goods at ports of entry; and manage legal cross-border trade.

Magnus, who immediately resigned as Tucson police chief after the vote, told the Arizona Daily Star Tuesday he believes he's leaving the department in good shape with newly appointed Chief Chad Kasmar, who was a deputy chief here.

“Chad is far and away the right choice at the right time and I have tremendous confidence he’s going to do an outstanding job," Magnus said.

"It's not necessary to look outside the department for a person that can continue this kind of community engagement and progressive response to crime fighting," he said earlier Tuesday before Kasmar's appointment, adding, "Any of our chiefs are more than capable to run the agency, but there's a lot of coalescing around Deputy Chief Chad Kasmar. He's so ready to take the reins over here."

Tucson's mayor and council voted unanimously to appoint Kasmar as chief Tuesday afternoon, with City Manager Mike Ortega saying he's working to finalize Kasmar's contract by the council's Dec. 21 meeting. Magnus' salary was $212,600 as of fiscal year 2020 while Kasmar's was $177,550.

“Chad Kasmar is a proud product of Tucson with deep roots, he understands the needs of our city, and he is ready to take on the challenges ahead," Mayor Regina Romero said in a news release. “I will be asking Chief Kasmar to embark on a listening tour with community members throughout our city to inform his vision for the department."

Kasmar was hired by the Tucson Police Department in 2000 and was promoted by Magnus to deputy chief in November 2016. Kasmar has been working as interim head of 911 operations since January.

Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Tucson, said of Magnus' confirmation: “This bipartisan vote gives Arizona much-needed leadership at Customs and Border Protection at a time when we continue to face challenges at the border demonstrated by the increase in migrants in the Yuma Sector over the past two days.

"Chris Magnus brings experience and understanding of Southern Arizona that will be important for his new role leading CBP as we continue working to secure the border, upgrade our ports of entry, and ensure a more orderly and humane process at the border that doesn’t fall on Arizona communities,” Kelly said in a written statement.

Arizona Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said in a written statement: “Confirmation of Chris Magnus to be Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection underscores the Senate’s trust in his exceptional qualifications and history of service. This confirmation represents a step toward improving how the federal government manages and secures the border.

"I look forward to working with Commissioner Magnus to secure the border, protect our communities, and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely,” said Sinema, who is chair of the Senate Government Operations and Border Management Subcommittee.

Biden nominated Magnus in April. The process stalled when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, first demanded that the Homeland Security and Justice departments answer unrelated questions about actions under the Trump administration. But Wyden praised Magnus and his panel narrowly advanced his nomination to the full Senate. 

Magnus has called the appointment “the honor of a lifetime,” saying it’s not something he expected, “but it’s something I’m very excited about.”

Administration officials said in April that Magnus has “extensive experience in addressing immigration issues” because of his role as police chief in a “diverse city close to the U.S.-Mexican border." Officials also praised Magnus for developing a reputation as a “progressive police leader.”

Magnus said it's hard to leave TPD and Tucson, as he's really come to love the community and the department.

"That doesn't mean I've loved everything that happened here. Some situations have been some of the most difficult I've handled in my career," he told the Star Tuesday. "But this team doesn't give up, and they'll continue to work with the community to do the right things in the right way."

Magnus started his public safety career as a dispatcher in 1979, also working as a paramedic for nearly a decade before moving into law enforcement. He served as police chief in Fargo, North Dakota and Richmond, California before being selected as TPD chief in January 2016, following a national search. 

Star reporter Nicole Ludden contributed to this story.

Contact Star reporter Caitlin Schmidt at 573-4191 or cschmidt@tucson.com. On Twitter: @caitlincschmidt.


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