Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden on Thursday said he would hold up the nomination of President Joe Biden's pick to lead US Customs and Border Protection until officials release more information on last year's deployment of federal officers to quell protesters in Portland.
Wyden, who serves as the Senate Finance Committee chair and has the power to schedule nomination hearings, said the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department have failed to answer basic questions about the Trump administration's use of federal officers in Portland last summer.
"While it is clear that Customs and Border Protection faces pressing issues, as the senior senator from Oregon, I am unable to advance this nominee until DHS and DOJ give Oregonians some straight answers about what they were up to in Portland last year, and who was responsible," Wyden said in a statement.
Biden nominated Chris Magnus, the police chief in Tucson, Arizona, to lead CBP in April. The agency has not had a confirmed leader for years, and if the trend continues, Biden will be left without a confirmed commissioner as the agency grapples with an increase in border encounters and possible changes in how the US processes immigrant families.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has communicated with Wyden and, according to the agency, looks forward to working with him to resolve his concerns and schedule a confirmation hearing for Magnus.
"Secretary Mayorkas has directed a Department-wide review to ensure that all DHS law enforcement personnel receive appropriate training and operate pursuant to policies in keeping with best practices and law," the agency said.
The Trump administration's decision to send federal officers, including a Border Patrol tactical unit, to face off with crowds protesting against racial inequality and police violence faced immediate backlash. At the time, the White House said agents were sent to Portland to protect federal buildings because local authorities weren't doing enough.
In a June 9 letter to Mayorkas, Wyden asked for information on which agencies or units the agency deployed, what training federal officers receive on how to engage with protesters, and whether all officers had identifiable badges with names and personnel numbers. Wyden sent a similar letter to the DHS and DOJ last year.
"The previous responses I have received on this matter fell well short of answering all my questions and did not meet the standards necessary for me to perform my constitutional oversight responsibilities on behalf of the Oregonians I represent," Wyden said in his letter.
Last year, the Trump administration sent members of DHS’s Special Response Team, as well as agents from the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, or BORTAC. One video depicted BORTAC agents detaining a protester on the streets of Portland and pulling them into an unmarked van. The agents had the word “police” emblazoned on the front of their uniforms, but the other patches were difficult to see. Much of the criticism stems from reports of agents refusing to identify themselves and the fact that they wore militaristic camouflage uniforms in an urban environment.
A watchdog report from the DHS Office of the Inspector General found that while the agency had the authority to deploy CBP, ICE, and Secret Service officers to the city, it was unprepared to effectively protect federal buildings.
"Not all officers completed required training; had the necessary equipment; and used consistent uniforms, devices, and operational tactics when responding to the events in Portland," the report stated.
Magnus, who gained national attention for holding a "Black Lives Matter" sign in uniform at a protest, is viewed as a progressive police chief who will be expected to reform the beleaguered CBP.
In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Magnus criticized the Trump administration's efforts to force local police to cooperate more closely with federal immigration authorities, saying it "will compromise public safety by reducing community confidence in law enforcement."