March 9, 2022
Tucson Police Department stalls IRLI investigation into Chris Magnus
WASHINGTON–In the time before, during and after his Senate confirmation as the Biden White House’s commissioner for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Chris Magnus’ previous employer, the Tucson, Arizona, Police Department (TPD), has been stonewalling an Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) investigation into Magnus’ leadership of the department and policies on illegal immigration.
In April 2021, IRLI submitted a records request with the TPD, where Magnus had been serving as police chief since January 2016. The request asked for documentation including directives given to TPD members on how to engage with the immigrant community, directives on how to work with federal immigration authorities, directives on how to handle ICE detainer requests, and all communication from Magnus that pertained to the subject of immigration enforcement.
In May 2021, IRLI made contact over the phone with a TPD records division staffer and received confirmation that the request was being processed. In August 2021, after months of no response, IRLI again contacted their office to obtain a status update on this request. A staffer claimed she had no idea what happened to the original request and asked for another one to be submitted – which IRLI immediately did.
Between September and mid-October of 2021, IRLI contacted their office three additional times to inquire about the status of this request. Each time, a staffer said the request was being processed, but never offered a tangible timeline or date of completion.
In late October 2021, IRLI contacted their office again. A staffer—this time a new individual—took the call. During the phone call, the staffer discussed this request with a coworker while the phone connection was open. IRLI could hear the staffer express confusion as to why a request submitted in April had not yet been completed. The TPD ultimately said that the request was still being processed and that IRLI would be contacted the following Monday.
“The Tucson Police Department either has very poor records management, or is deliberately trying to hide embarrassing details of Chris Magnus’ time there,” said Dale L. Wilcox, IRLI’s executive director and general counsel. “These records belong to the public. The public paid for them and owns them. Government agencies cannot ignore records requests because the records might be politically damaging to those currently in power. We will continue to pursue the transparency the American people deserve from their government”
The TPD is required to comply with such requests pursuant to the Arizona Records Law as well as Arizona Common Law, relating to the discovery of police records.
Later that October, IRLI called TPD after they failed to respond, despite a promise to do so. Their office could not provide a timeline on when the request would be completed. In December 2021, IRLI called TPD for another status update. The staffer who answered claimed that the department was backlogged and still working on July 2021 requests – to which IRLI informed her that this request was submitted in April of that year. IRLI learned during this phone call that the TPD chief (Magnus himself) had to personally review the records request before it could be released. It is not clear if Magnus reviewed the request before being confirmed to CBP Commissioner.
In January 2022, IRLI again followed up. A staffer claimed that staffing changes led to the slow response time on this request, and promised that the request was being worked on. However, the staffer could not give an estimate on when the requested records would be released to IRLI.
During these months of no apparent action from TPD, Magnus was able to successfully win confirmation to the top position in CBP.
The Senate confirmed Magnus’ nomination on December 7, 2021 by a narrow 50-47 margin with three senators not voting, and he was officially sworn in as CBP commissioner on December 13, 2021.
Magnus has a documented history of hindering immigration enforcement. IRLI uncovered email exchanges from Magnus during his time leading the Richmond, California, Police Department that showcased his aversion to working with federal immigration authorities and his work to implement sanctuary policies for his officers.
As Tucson Police Chief, Magnus took several actions to thwart cooperation with federal immigration authorities, and authored a New York Times op-ed denouncing former President Donald Trump’s immigration platform.
It’s likely that IRLI’s records request would yield more examples of Magnus’ behind-the-scenes work to impede cooperation with ICE and CBP, but his department’s stonewalling successfully kept these records from seeing the light of day before his confirmation.
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