WASHINGTON – In an unusual move by a committee chairman of the president’s own party, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon refuses to schedule a hearing for President Biden’s candidate for the leadership of state customs and border protection – United until the administration answers questions about the federal response to the unrest in Portland, Oregon, last summer.
Mr Wyden, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, informed the White House this week of his decision to postpone a hearing for Chris Magnus, the Tucson, Arizona police chief. Mr Biden appointed Chief Magnus in April to introduce himself to the agency, which plays a central role in tackling the influx of migrants to the country’s southern border.
Mr Wyden said that for months he had asked officials in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to answer specific questions about how the agencies, under former President Donald J. Trump, were preparing the extraordinary step of sending federal law enforcement officers to the streets of Portland, and what happened on the ground, when protests turned violent after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis.
Stand up one military type presence amid the downtown protests against police violence remains one of the most controversial decisions Mr. Trump has made during his tenure.
Six months after the start of the new administration, the Department of Homeland Security and Justice has failed to answer fundamental questions about how the Trump administration has abused federal resources to fuel violence against peaceful protesters in my hometown, ”Wyden said in a statement Wednesday.
Mr. Wyden is a Liberal who holds one of the most powerful positions in the Senate. He was elected to the House in 1996 after serving in the House since 1981, where he represented a district that includes parts of Portland.
“While it is clear that customs and border protection face pressing issues,” he said in the statement, “as a senior senator from Oregon, I am unable to move that candidate forward until DHS and DOJ give Oregonians direct answers about what was going on in Portland last year, and who was in charge.
Mr Wyden’s move comes as the flow of migrants across the country’s southern border has surpassed record levels in recent years. The border patrol, which is part of customs and border protection, intercepted migrants entering the country more than 178,000 times without documents in June, the highest number of apprehensions since April 2000.
The administration is planning how it will lift a public health order put in place at the start of the pandemic, which it has used to turn back migrants to the border more than a million times. Lifting this order will further increase the number of people trying to enter the country, increasing the sense of urgency to put in place a permanent leader in customs and border protection.
“Given the continuing humanitarian crisis at the border, there is an urgent need for his leadership and expertise,” wrote members of the Immigration Task Force on Law Enforcement, a group of officials. Law enforcement officials who support an immigration overhaul, Chief Magnus wrote in a statement. open letter wednesday.
A year ago, as the protests in Portland continued throughout the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump was using “blatant tactics” to deal with the unrest in Portland.
“Homeland security officers – without a clearly defined warrant or authority – move away from federal property, stripped of badges and insignia and identifying marks, to detain people,” Biden said in a statement. at the time. “They brutally attack peaceful protesters, including a veteran of the US Navy. “
Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford has suspended the appointment of Chief Magnus and several other homeland security officials until, he said last week, “we can actually bring the Biden administration to define what its policy will be, and what they will do to be able to enforce the law.
This kind of gesture is typical of senators who are not part of the president’s party, but the interference of an ally of the president is not.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said the agency responded to Mr Wyden in private last week and “looks forward to working with him to resolve his issues.”
Keith Chu, spokesperson for Mr. Wyden, said the ministry had only provided “partial” answers to the senator’s questions. A Justice Department spokeswoman said on Wednesday the agency was working with Mr Wyden’s office on his requests.
According to a White House official, the administration hopes the Senate will cooperate with plans to move forward with the appointment of Chief Magnus.
Downtown Portland was closed for weeks last summer due to people protesting police violence after a white Minneapolis policeman killed Mr. Floyd, an unarmed black man, on May 25. While the shooting sparked protests across the country, protests in downtown Portland outlasted those in most other cities.
Positioning himself as a president of law and order, Mr. Trump described the city as lawless, filled with “anarchists” who “hate our country.” And he praised the actions of armed federal officers from several agencies who fired tear gas at crowds and drew protesters into unmarked vans. Among the officers deployed to Portland were members of a Customs and Border Protection Special Tactical Team that is typically deployed on anti-drug operations.
This only irritated the protesters, who had voiced concerns about the rise of fascism in the United States.
“The uncoordinated deployment of ill-trained federal law enforcement agencies to Oregon and other parts of the country must never happen again,” Wyden wrote in a June 9 letter to the Secretary of Security. interior, Alejandro N. Mayorkas.
An Inspector General’s report released in April found that the Department of Homeland Security had the authority to send federal agents to Portland, but had not properly prepared and coordinated with other agencies.
While the report answers some of Mr Wyden’s questions, it seeks additional answers about who led the officers in the field and whether they were identifiable, with badges and uniforms. He also asked what advice, if any, officers received on how to interact with protesters and members of the media. And he asked for a list of the equipment that federal agents used while deployed to Portland.
Mr Wyden also asked about the deployment of federal agents to Portland hours after Mr Biden’s inauguration.
Mr Mayorkas began a ministry-wide review in March of the decisions that led to the agency’s involvement in the Portland protests. The review aims “to ensure that all DHS law enforcement personnel receive appropriate training and operate in accordance with policies consistent with best practices and the law,” said Marsha Espinosa, spokesperson for the department. She said the agency “is committed to respecting the rights of all people who peacefully exercise their First Amendment freedoms and assembly.”
In May, Biden revoked a Trump-era executive order that cleared the way for federal law enforcement officials to descend on Portland with the stated purpose of protecting federal buildings and property.