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Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies

The Hill logo The Hill 4/12/2021 Rebecca Beitsch and Rafael Bernal
a man wearing a suit and tie: Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies © Getty Images Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies

President Biden on Monday nominated two vocal Trump critics to fill top immigration and border policy spots in his administration.

Biden pegged Tucson, Ariz., Police Chief Chris Magnus to lead Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Ur Jaddou to head United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The two agencies are components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CBP oversees border and port-of-entry operations, while USCIS is responsible for granting visas, permanent residences and naturalizations.

CBP is also the parent agency of the U.S. Border Patrol, and the primary agency in charge of initial intake of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors, at the border.

Biden will also nominate John Tien, who previously served as the National Security Council senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to serve as the deputy director of DHS. Jen Easterly, previously a counterterrorism lead at the National Security Agency, will head the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Magnus is a somewhat unorthodox pick to lead a federal agency. White and gay, he has spent the majority of his career leading local police departments in several cities, previously serving in similar roles in Richmond, Calif., and Fargo, N.D., before landing in Tucson.

The longtime police chief made headlines during his time in California when he held a "Black lives matter" sign while on the job at a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The photographs of him holding the sign while chatting with protesters landed him in trouble with the Richmond Police Officers Association, which said the move violated state laws against politicking while in uniform.

"It certainly wasn't intended to be a political statement," Magnus told SFGATE at the time. "It was intended to be a humane statement."

During his time in Tuscon, Magnus was a vocal critic of former President Trump's immigration policies.

"The administration's crackdown on immigrants is already having a chilling effect on police-community relations here. Many community members have told me that Latinos are not turning to us for help or working with us as often as they have in the past. Their growing sense of fear and distrust is clearly a consequence of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions," Magnus wrote in a 2017 op-ed in The New York Times.

But his department came under criticism for aggressive police tactics after Carlos Ingram López, a Latino man, died in the custody of Tucson police officers late last year after being held face down for 12 minutes while being restrained.

Magnus offered to resign in the wake of that death, but ultimately the three responding officers were fired from the department.

Still, Magnus's nomination is a sign that the Biden administration views the Tucson police chief as someone who managed well the excessive force allegations in the death of Ingram López.

Jaddou's pick comes as no surprise, as she served as the agency's head counsel under former President Obama, and led the DHS review team for Biden's transition.

Jaddou's stint as USCIS counsel from 2014 to 2017 coincided with now-Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas's appointment as deputy secretary of Homeland Security, a position to which he was promoted after leading USCIS during Obama's first term.

While USCIS is one of the more obscure immigration agencies, it plays a crucial role for immigrants, who depend on USCIS to certify their right to work in the country, travel internationally and obtain or stay in legal status.

It also has a unique funding structure, where a majority of its budget is funded by fees paid by foreign national applicants. In 2021, $4.8 billion of the agency's $5 billion budget was covered by application fees.

Biden last week proposed a threefold hike in USCIS's taxpayer funded budget, from $118 million in fiscal 2021 to $345 million in 2022.

The financial injection is intended to plug budget shortfalls that have hounded the agency, and to give USCIS some breathing room to address massive green card and visa backlogs.

During the Trump administration, Jaddou led DHS Watch, a project within America's Voice, a progressive immigration advocacy firm.

Her credentials as the agency's head counsel under Obama and later as a progressive immigration advocate will likely guarantee Jaddou support among Senate Democrats pushing her nomination.

But some sparks could fly at Jaddou's confirmation hearings, as she could be questioned in the Senate Judiciary Committee by Trump allies such as GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Josh Hawley (Mo.).

Along with the other nominations, Biden selected Rob Silvers, who previously served as assistant secretary for cyber policy and deputy chief of staff at DHS under the Obama administration, to serve as under secretary for strategy, policy and plans.

Jon Meyer, who previously served as deputy general counsel at DHS as counsel to Biden on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will now serve as general counsel.

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