At Finance Hearing, Portman Presses Customs and Border Protection Nominee on the Southern Border Crisis and Need to Install Enhanced Border Security Technology

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, the nominee to be Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), on the need to complete the installation of enhanced border security technology that has already been appropriated by Congress. In March, Portman visited El Paso and saw the fully-funded construction materials lying on the ground at the border and heard directly from Border Patrol officers about the importance of enhancing border security in order to give them the opportunity to complete their national security mission. 

Portman also pressed Chief Magnus on his plans to, if confirmed, put policies in place to address the worst migrant crisis in more than 21 years which is due to the Biden administration’s decision to dismantle the previous administration’s border policies with no consideration of the consequences which has resulted in a historic surge in unlawful migrants, unaccompanied children, and deadly narcotics like fentanyl into our country. Portman has consistently pressed Biden administration officials on the need to act to secure our border. Finally, Portman highlighted the need for an orderly and lawful asylum system while also addressing the pull factor that incentivizes migrants to make the journey to the United States.

A transcript of the exchange can be found below and a video can be found here.

Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate it. Chief, I appreciate your testimony today. I got to hear some of it off and on with other commitments. And I also appreciated our conversation, which was very frank, about some of the challenges we’re facing on the border today. The crisis at the border continues to, in my view, be based on policy decisions that we are making or need to make. And the big one for me, is the pull factor of the asylum system. And, you and I talked about this at some length. I just would like to hear from you a little about your perspective on this. We recently saw the surge in Del Rio, but the overall numbers just continue to increase. And for the traffickers and human smugglers who are exploiting people, you know, unfortunately, they have a narrative, which is that if you come up to the border with us, pay us $10,000 or whatever it is, then we’ll get you in the United States. Just claim asylum and you’ll be allowed in for a period of time. With a 1.2 million person backlog at least, and with four to five, maybe six years before a hearing and with the acceptance rate being about 15 percent for folks from the so-called Northern Triangle countries and probably similar with regard to Ecuador and other countries that are increasing their numbers, the system is clearly broken. Could you speak to that and what you think about our current asylum system, if confirmed, how it would make your job harder, and what you think ought to be done about it?” 

Chief Chris Magnus, Nominee to be Commissioner Of U.S. Customs And Border Protection United States Department of Homeland Security: “Senator Portman, thank you for the question. And also thank you for the conversation we were able to have about some of these things. We are certainly aligned around the challenges associated with the pull factors. I mean, there’s no question there are both pull and push factors that are bringing migrants to this country and asylum seekers. But the pull factors are very evident, and I think there is no one simple solution to this. Obviously, the message is going to have to be clear that we intend to follow the law. We’re going to have to do more clear messaging, at every level of government, and that includes effective, even social media messaging. We’re going to have to do more to anticipate surges and work with the Mexican government around that. I am, as I’ve mentioned, very interested and open to working with my counterparts in Mexico and building the strongest possible relations there. So again, no one easy answer to this, but I agree this is part of the challenge.” 

Portman: “I guess, just quickly, Chief, are you also willing to work with those of us who believe that the asylum system is broken? And I think you’re one of them from our conversations, to come up with a system that makes more sense. As an example, having people apply for asylum from their home country, having an immediate adjudication, allowing for the system to work as it was intended.” 

Chief Magnus: “Senator, I’m very interested in working with you and others. I agree that the asylum system absolutely must be improved. As I’ve tried to reinforce several times, I think this requires a bipartisan approach. It requires listening, compromising, sharing. I am very open to doing all of those things, including, frankly, a number of conversations with the men and women at the ground level who are dealing with some of these challenges on a day to day basis and often have some very strong ideas and well thought ideas about how things could be made better. So, yes, you have my commitment for that.” 

Portman: “I appreciate that commitment, and I look forward to working with you, should you be confirmed, on that issue. Another issue you and I talked about is the security along the border and the fact that of the roughly 450 miles of fencing that was built by the previous administration, sometimes called The Wall, only about 10 percent of the technology was put in place prior to the Biden administration coming into office and calling a pause on all construction. You and I talked about the situation along the border. Certainly you’ve seen it in Arizona. I was in El Paso not long ago looking at the gaps in the border wall, which are, to me, obvious things that should be closed and create a huge problem for the Border Patrol. But the one that particularly troubles me is the fact that even though Democrats and Republicans alike talk about the need for sensors and cameras and more sophisticated technology, that, again, only about 10 percent of that was completed, which complements the fence. Would you be supportive of completing the technology part of this? I won’t put you on the spot in terms of the so-called wall. I believe that fencing ought to be completed as well. I think it’s nonsensical that we paid the contractor to do this, and Border Patrol have to stand there 24/7 in order to protect a gap in the wall. But let’s move on to the technology issue where I think there’s more consensus. Would you be willing to say today that you would support completing the technology, again, sensors, cameras, to be able to give your Border Patrol officers the opportunity to be able to respond more effectively and more efficiently?” 

Chief Magnus: “Senator, thank you for the question. And you’re correct. I’m interested in providing the agents of the Border Patrol with the best possible resources, which would include improvements in technology. Something I’m very interested in learning more about especially because the border is not homogeneous and there are different needs along different sections.” 

Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”