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FRI: US land managers to host meetings on Chaco protection plan, + More

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US land managers to host meetings on Chaco protection plan - Associated Press

Federal officials have scheduled a series of public meetings to gather comments on the U.S. Interior Department's proposal to limit oil and gas development on federal land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Two in-person meetings will be held Wednesday in Farmington, each with participation limited to 50 people. A virtual meeting will follow Thursday evening. Those who plan to attend any of the meetings must register in advance.

The meetings are part of a process that aims to withdraw about 550 square miles of federal land holdings within 10 miles of the park boundary, making the area off-limits to oil and gas leasing for 20 years.

New leases on federal land in the area will be halted for the next two years while the withdrawal proposal is considered.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland traveled to northwest New Mexico in November to announce the plan. She cited the significance of the area to many tribes from the Southwest that trace their roots to the high desert outpost.

A World Heritage site, Chaco is thought to be the center of what was once a hub of Indigenous civilization.

The Navajo Nation is among the Native American tribes that support increased protections, but top tribal officials have called for a smaller area around Chaco to be set aside as a way to limit the economic impact on families who rely on revenues from oil and gas leasing.

Navajo officials have requested a congressional field hearing so lawmakers can hear from local residents.

Officials with the New Mexico pueblos and Arizona tribes that are connected to Chaco have said they believe Haaland's actions represent more meaningful steps by the federal government to permanently protect cultural resources in northwestern New Mexico.

Prosecutor: Agreement dismisses charge against undersheriff - Associated Press

A northern New Mexico senior sheriff's official has agreed to retire in exchange for dismissal of a felony charge accusing him of ordering deputies to draw their guns against other officers, a special prosecutor said.

The charge accusing Rio Arriba County Undersheriff Martin Ray Trujillo of solicitation to commit aggravated assault upon a police officer was dismissed Monday at the prosecution's request, according to court records.

Prosecutor Andrea Reeb said the charge can be refiled if Trujillo does not follow and retire at the end of February, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Reeb, district attorney in the Clovis-based 9th Judicial District, is special prosecutor in Trujillo's case.

The May 2020 incident in which Trujillo was charged involved a confrontation involving then-Sheriff James Lujan and officers from two other agencies who were attempting to seize his cellphone for an investigation.

Reeb said she and law enforcement officials thought the agreement to not prosecute Trujillo if he retires was a good resolution because Lujan had involved him. "Everybody thought it was time to let it rest.," she said.

Lujan resigned after being convicted in December of two felony counts and being sentenced to prison.

Legislature passes Opportunity Scholarship in session’s final hours, making paying for college even easier By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

The New Mexico Legislature passed a law a little after midnight in the session’s final hours that creates a new scholarship aimed at making college affordable for any resident who wishes to enroll.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act is expected to cost $190 million over the next three years, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee. Beginning in July, it will cover tuition and fees to all degree-seeking undergraduate students at state or tribal colleges in New Mexico.

The bill got three hours of debate late Wednesday into Thursday, including from some Republicans who said the bill might discourage students from applying themselves to their studies because they don’t have any of their own money on the line, as Rep. Jason Harper (D-Rio Rancho) said.

“There’s something to be said for having skin in the game versus being handed something for free,” Harper said.

Rep. Joy Garratt (D- Albuquerque) responded that students need a “foot in the door” if they want access to a potentially transformative education, one that benefits families and communities as well as individual students. She also said the scholarship is geared toward students who might be trying to go back to school later in life to get a leg up or boost their earning capacity.

The bill ultimately passed by a vote of 51-17, and it previously passed the Senate 30-6. The scholarship was one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s priorities.

The scholarship is for students who take between six and 18 credit hours during fall and spring semesters and maintain a 2.5 grade point average. Students enrolled in programs that provide certain trade certificates are also eligible, if those programs are approved by the state Higher Education and Workforce Solutions Departments.

The scholarship will cover tuition and fees for up to 90 credit hours toward an associate’s degree or 160 hours toward a bachelor’s degree.

The LFC evaluation noted that the bill might not go all that far in helping would-be students make the jump to attending college here. For one thing, the Lottery scholarship and federal aid like the Pell grant already go a long way toward helping students pay for tuition and fees, but the Opportunity Scholarship is a “last-dollar” scholarship. That means it will only kick in when other aid isn’t available.

Other costs facing non-traditional students hoping to return to school are not accounted for by the scholarship, the LFC noted, including “housing, childcare, transportation, and forgone income from attending college rather than working.”

In a statement applauding the scholarship being passed, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the bill will help up to 35,000 students go to college for free this fall.

“That’s a game-changer for families, communities and businesses around the state,” she said.

Costs to attend the University of New Mexico for a full academic year — including tuition, books, fees and other expenses — are an estimated $25,048 for residents, according to the university.

UPDATE, Friday 11/18: Stephanie Montoya, a spokesperson for the Higher Education Department, said the LFC’s analysis is “incorrect” on two points. First, she disputed how much the scholarship will cost, saying all that’s been budgeted is $100 million in this year’s legislative session, and that the department will “closely monitor” the cost in future years.

Second, she said the program is actually a “middle-dollar” scholarship, not a “last-dollar,” saying students will be able to receive full tuition and fees through the Opportunity Scholarship before federal grants like the Pell Grant and GI bill are applied.

Representatives from the LFC could not be reached for comment Friday. The office is closed today, according to a voicemail message.

New Mexico lawmakers OK crime bill, $500M in tax rebates - By Morgan Lee And Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

New Mexico legislators approved about $500 million in tax rebates and a broad suite of crime-fighting initiatives Thursday at the end of the 30-day legislative session — as the state grapples with economic whiplash from the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about a violent crime surge in Albuquerque and beyond.

Final votes responded to calls by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for economic relief and a hardline response to frustrations with crime as she campaigns for reelection in November. The state House worked through the night before adjourning at noon.

"This session ... was about money in pockets, kids in school — safer streets and communities," said Lujan Grisham at a news conference. "You do the crime, expect to do the time."

New Mexico state government is awash in cash linked to a surge in oil production and a federal infusion of pandemic relief funding, allowing lawmakers to provide individual income tax rebates of $250 — and more for parents. State legislators also approved unprecedented new investments in public schools, Medicaid, public safety initiatives and an array of grants, loans and tax breaks to private industry.

The Democratic-led Legislature approved a record-setting $1 billion annual budget increase that provides for $8.48 billion in general fund spending during the fiscal year starting on July 1 — a 14% increase over current-year spending. Lujan Grisham supports major provisions and can veto any part of the spending plan.

Salary increases of at least 7% are scheduled for school district and state government staff across the state, with a minimum hourly wage of $15 for public employees and higher base salaries for teachers at various career stages.

"We have never raised teacher salaries this much," said Democratic Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, describing the standard salary increases as well as incentives for extended work calendars and increased taxpayer contributions for pensions for educators. "We've really put money where it needed to be. ... What I'm hearing from the education community is that they're going to work longer now that they've got a pay that makes a difference. It will increase their retirement."

Annual spending on K-12 public education would increase to $3.87 billion, a 12% boost. Annual Medicaid spending would increase by about $240 million to $1.3 billion as the federal government winds down pandemic-related subsidies to the program that gives free health care to the impoverished.

Legislators assembled the crime bill amid a record-setting spate of homicides in Albuquerque.

It would expand surveillance of criminal defendants as they await trial with 24-hour monitoring of ankle-bracelet tracking devices. Legislators balked at proposals from the governor and prosecutors to ban pretrial release for people accused of certain violent and sexual crimes.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said that legislators found public safety solutions without running afoul of a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2016 that made it harder to deny bail while defendants await trial.

The Legislature made "smart, targeted changes to our criminal justice system," Egolf said. "They will help us deter dangerous violent crime and ensure sure and swift justice to those who violate the law, including eliminating the statute of limitations for second degree murder."

Egolf announced he would not seek reelection in November to spend more time with his family, and would hand off the top House leadership position to a successor next year.

The crime bill would expand the ranks of state district judges, boost retention pay for municipal police and sheriff's deputies and bestow million-dollar death benefits for relatives of police killed in the line of duty.

It sets out requirements for crime reduction grants that pursue alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration and expands intervention programs to rein in gun violence.

Criminal penalties are enhanced for threatening judges, possession of firearms by serious violent felons, fleeing from law enforcement and more.

Initiatives to expand voting access petered out, as Republicans in the legislative minority used procedural maneuvers to block Senate floor debates.

Major initiatives to slow climate change through pollution caps and clean-fuel standards also stalled as opponents sounded alarms about affordable energy supplies.

"The progressives came into this session with a very aggressive agenda," said Republican state Rep. Larry Scott of Hobbs, a hub for the state's robust oil economy. "My moderate and perhaps more conservative colleagues from this side of the aisle got in front of that train and slowed it down."

The governor, secretary of state and leading Democratic legislators unsuccessfully sought to expand ballot access as a counterpoint to new voting restrictions in Republican-led states since the 2020 election.

At least 19 states have enacted new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The national GOP campaign to tighten voting laws has been partly driven by former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Republican and Democratic legislators came together to approve one-time tax rebates of $250 for individuals who filed taxes or $500 for joint filers.

An additional tax credit or rebate, negotiated by Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque, will provide parents with up to $175 per child annually — a benefit that doesn't expire for nearly a decade. Higher income households would receive a smaller child tax credit, starting at $25.

Legislators also agreed to eliminate state taxes on Social Security income for middle-income earners. Individuals earning more than $100,000 or joint filers earning more than $150,000 would continue to pay taxes on income from Social Security.

The tax relief bill also would give $1,000 credits to full-time hospital nurses for the 2022 tax year and slightly reduce the state gross receipts tax on retail sales and business services in two stages to about 4.9%. Combined state and optional local gross receipts taxes can reach a combined rate of nearly 9%.

New Mexico governor lifts state's indoor mask mandate - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted the state's mask mandate for indoor public spaces on Thursday.

She made the surprise announcement at a news conference that followed the end of the 30-day legislative session. The state's top health official had said just last week that masks were effective and that New Mexico was still in "hot water."

Until now, New Mexico and Hawaii had been the only states that had yet to set a date for lifting their mandates. Washington's governor on Thursday also announced that state's mandate would be lifted March 21 for most places, including schools.

As in other states, coronavirus infections in New Mexico have been declining.

Lujan Grisham cited reduced COVID-19 risks and removed her mask at an indoor news conference alongside Democratic legislators and top officials from her administration.

"It's not a political decision," Lujan Grisham said. "It's the right time for us. We are conquering COVID and we'll keep doing that."

She emphasized that masks are still an effective tool for limiting the spread of COVID and protecting vulnerable people.

"I may never visit my mother without a mask on," Lujan Grisham said.

Most of the assembled Democratic politicians and state officials also took off their masks following the announcement, including Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase.

Scrase said later that masks would still be required at hospitals and congregate care settings such as nursing homes.

In August, the governor reinstated New Mexico's mask mandate. At the time, she cited stagnant vaccination rates and an increase in infections. She also required more people to get vaccinated, including workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other places that the state deemed as high-risk.

It wasn't immediately clear if Lujan Grisham planned any other changes to the state's current public health order, which will expire in early March.

The governor, who is up for reelection in November, had been facing increasing pressure to reconsider the mask mandate for public spaces after several more states moved to lift their requirements earlier this month.

State Sen. David Gallegos, a Republican from southeastern New Mexico, was among those leading the charge against the mandate. In early February, he sent a letter to education officials saying New Mexico was one of the last holdouts to accept that there was little data to support the continued use of masks in schools.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Belen Republican, said Thursday that he was glad the governor finally heeded the call.

"Though we celebrate the announcement, the timing is clearly motivated by politics," he said. "New Mexicans, however, will not forget the last three years simply because this is an election year."

The Republican Party of New Mexio also labeled the governor's move as political, saying she should have removed the mask mandate months ago and suggested that Thursday's move was used to deflect from her legislative losses.

Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, said Thursday that individual school districts will have the choice whether to maintain masking. She said the union has always maintained the best decision making happens at the local level.

"We see today's announcement as a sign of progress in our shared fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue our efforts to empower our members to make the decisions which are best for themselves, their students, and our communities," Holland said.

The Las Cruces Public School District was among the first to declare it was ending its mask requirement and resuming concession sales.

"We will move cautiously forward under this shift," Superintendent Ralph Ramos said in a statement. "Students, families and staff have sacrificed a lot to get the number of positive cases down. Effective immediately, masks will be optional, and we will respect the decision of students, families and staff to choose for themselves whether or not they want to wear a mask — indoors or out."

Other districts followed suit, including in Albuquerque and neighboring Rio Rancho.

All told, more than half of New Mexico's K-12 students will have the option of not wearing masks to school on Friday.

No decision was made in Santa Fe Public Schools, where students won't be in class until Tuesday. Board members and administrators are expected to discuss the issue Thursday night and Friday, district spokesman Cody Dynarski said.

Solar project delays create hurdles for New Mexico utility - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A utility in sun-drenched New Mexico is struggling to get enough solar-generated electricity as it prepares to shut down a coal-fired power plant amid supply chain disruptions, one of the problems threatening to delay or cancel projects around the world as pressure mounts to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

New Mexico law requires publicly owned utilities and cooperatives to roll into their portfolios more renewable sources and eliminate carbon emissions over the next two decades.

As part of that push, the San Juan Generating Station — a coal-fired power plant that has produced electricity for millions of customers in the Southwest for decades — was slated to close in June.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico initially proposed replacing the lost capacity with a mix of natural gas, solar and battery storage. The Public Regulation Commission instead opted for solar and storage to make up some of the difference after environmentalists pushed back on gas.

But utility executives have acknowledged bumps in the renewable energy road, citing a perfect storm of regulatory challenges, lengthier periods of unseasonably hot weather that affect demand and the supply chain issues.

Soaring material and shipping costs are being felt across a wide range of industries. When it comes to worldwide utility-scale solar projects planned for 2022, analysts with the independent research company Rystad Energy predicted in the fall that 56% of projects risked delay or cancelation due to the factors.

In New Mexico, utility executives on Thursday submitted a plan to state regulators aimed at ensuring adequate supplies to avoid rolling blackouts during peak demands this summer. One unit of the coal-fired plant would keep running through September.

The utility says state regulators would need to sign off within weeks to have enough coal to feed the plant for an extra three months.

After that? The ability to fill the gap left by taking more around-the-clock generation offline before renewable sources are ready remains uncertain.

Even if inflation eases, the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association has said longer term solutions are needed. That would include diversifying the supply chain by expanding domestic manufacturing.

The New Mexico utility also is on the hook for finding enough renewable power to replace what will be lost starting in 2023 and again in 2024 when its leases for electricity from the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona expire. Regulators have approved more solar and storage in that case as well.

PNM President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn said in a statement to The Associated Press that the utility has a responsibility to balance reliability, cost and the environment.

"This solution may impact the timing of our plans to close the San Juan plant, but it does not change our direction and goals for delivering clean energy to New Mexicans, and it keeps our commitments to provide a financially backed just transition," she said.

Bringing more renewable energy projects online fast is the immediate challenge in New Mexico and other states, including California, where officials who run the state's main power grid have urged regulators to order utilities to significantly boost capacity over the next few years to ensure there's enough electricity to meet demands.

Blackouts in August 2020 were the first in nearly 20 years because of an energy shortage, putting California's quest to have 100% of its energy come from renewable sources under more scrutiny. The electrical grid has seen some storage and transmission upgrades since then, but officials were still forced to call for voluntary energy conservation last summer.

In New Mexico, concerns first were raised in 2021 when it became clear that developers working on the solar and battery projects meant to replace the San Juan plant were defaulting. PNM said it analyzed numerous options and spent months securing firm electricity supplies from other utilities to help meet summer demands.

The other key is the continued operation of one unit at San Juan. Utility executives say the one-time temporary extension will keep the system reliable and helps control customer costs.

Without that option, PNM would have a negative 3.4% reserve margin. The historical reserve margin is 13%.

Having a healthy reserve is more important now with demands fluctuating amid extreme weather from climate change, the utility said.

Environmentalists also are acknowledging that keeping San Juan running through September may be necessary, but they stressed that the long-term solution needs to be ending the state's reliance on coal and gas plants and passing more legislation to address climate change.

Tom Fallgren, PNM vice president of generation, said New Mexico's energy transition law adopted in 2019 made for good policy and provided a clear direction for the state. However, he said reliability and cost issues arise when people try to push too fast.

"That has the opportunity to derail the whole path to carbon-free," he said. "Our caution when that bill was passed was 'Yes, we're all moving in the same direction, but let's do it responsibly so we all stay moving in the same direction.' And again, that voice has not been heard."

Report says new nuclear reactor is risky; utilities disagree - By Jennifer Mcdermott Associated Press

A new type of nuclear reactor that would provide carbon-free energy to at least four states in the Western U.S. poses financial risks for utilities and their ratepayers, according to a report released Thursday that was immediately criticized by the project's owner and the company developing the reactor.

The report by the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said the small modular nuclear reactor being developed by NuScale Power in Oregon is "too expensive, too risky and too uncertain."

The NuScale design is the only small-scale reactor to win safety approval so far from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the agency is poised to issue a rule this summer that would fully certify it.

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a cooperative representing utilities in seven Western states, wants to build and operate six of the company's reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory as part of a broader effort to reduce greenhouse gases and fight climate change. The first is projected to come online in 2029.

In addition to Utah, utilities in Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico have signed on to receive power from the NuScale reactors, and utilities in Washington and Oregon are considering it, according to the cooperative.

A recent Associated Press survey of the energy policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that a strong majority — about two-thirds — say nuclear energy will help take the place of fossil fuels. Many state energy experts have concluded that power generated from wind, solar, water and other renewable sources won't be enough to fully replace energy from oil, coal and natural gas.

The new nuclear reactors being developed are far smaller than those in a traditional nuclear power plant. Some use water to cool the core, while advanced reactors use something else such as gas, liquid metal or molten salt. The NRC expects more designs to be submitted.

The report from the institute, which supports renewable energy, said it's likely the NuScale reactor will take longer to build than estimated and that the final cost of power will be higher than anticipated and greater than the cost of power from renewable alternatives.

"The nuclear industry has been claiming that small modular reactors ... are the wave of the future and are essential in the fight against climate change," report co-author David Schlissel said. "Based on the industry's long history of overpromising and underproducing in terms of providing low-cost power, we believe that these claims must be viewed carefully and cautiously."

LaVarr Webb, spokesperson for the Utah energy cooperative, said the report omitted important facts, including the federal government's strong support for the project. The Energy Department approved a cost-sharing arrangement in 2020 that could provide up to $1.4 billion. The plans called for 12 reactors, but the cooperative said last year that it needs only six.

Webb said that while the authors highlighted construction cost overruns at some large traditional nuclear plants, they didn't mention that the NuScale modules will be built in a factory and not at a site that could be affected by weather delays.

"There was a lot of misinformation," he said. "Our members are very supportive of the project and we will go forward as planned."

Both Webb and NuScale said they were not asked for feedback before the report was published.

"This report provides a wholly uninformed view of the value of advanced nuclear energy technology in meeting our energy needs and climate goals," Diane Hughes, a vice president at NuScale, wrote in an email. "The report also mischaracterizes NuScale's costs, does not accurately reflect or examine schedule timeframes and even fails to understand the output."

Thom Carter, the energy advisor to Utah's governor, said replacing carbon energy sources such as coal for generating electricity is a "nationwide struggle without an easy answer."

"We do believe that nuclear power needs to be part of the decarbonizing conversation," he said after receiving the report.

NuScale signed an agreement this week to explore bringing its small modular reactor technology to Poland. The company says it has 20 tentative agreements with customers in 11 countries.

Border agency chief faces challenges from within and outside - By Ben Fox, Anita Snow And Elliot Spagat Associated Press

One agent protested that he didn't join the Border Patrol to look after children in custody. Another asked why a policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for court hearings wasn't being used more. And one turned his back on the senior officials who had come to listen.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who's been tracking migration along the United States' southern border, the recent showdown happened in Yuma, Arizona, where encounters with migrants illegally crossing into the country from Mexico jumped more than 20-fold in December from a year earlier.

Discontent among the ranks is only one of the challenges Chris Magnus faces as the new leader of the United States' largest law enforcement agency. Magnus, who was sworn in this month as commissioner of the Border Patrol's parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, also faces persistent allegations that his agency is mistreating migrants, failing to recruit more women and is at the mercy of a broken asylum system.

Magnus might seem like an unconventional pick. When he was the police chief in Tucson, Arizona, he rejected federal grants to collaborate on border security with the agency he now leads and kept a distance from Border Patrol leaders in a region where thousands of agents are assigned.

In his first interview as commissioner, Magnus acknowledged morale problems and outlined some initial steps meant to fix them. He had no simple answer to address migration flows.

"There have always been periods of migrant surges into this country for different reasons, at different times," he said last week. "But I don't think anybody disputes that the numbers are high right now and that we have to work as many different strategies as possible to deal with those high numbers."

Magnus noted the growing number of migrants who from countries outside of Mexico and Central America, a trend that has been especially strong in Yuma.

Under a public health order known as Title 42 that was designed to limit spread of COVID-19, Mexico takes back migrants from the U.S. who are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador and are denied a chance to seek asylum. Other nationalities are eligible for expulsion, but the U.S. often won't fly them home due to the expense or strained diplomatic relations with their home countries. Instead, they are often quickly released in the U.S. to pursue asylum.

"There's a lot of frustration," said Rafael Rivera, president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 2595, a union that represents agents in the patrol's Yuma sector, which has seen a huge increase in such migrants. "They feel like there's no consequences, that we have an open border."

In December, U.S. officials stopped Venezuelans at the border nearly 25,000 times, which was more than double September's count and more than a hundred times the roughly 200 they made in December 2020. Venezuelans trailed only Mexicans in the number stopped at the U.S. border in December.

In the Yuma sector, which stretches from California's Imperial Sand Dunes to western Arizona's desert and rocky mountain ranges, Venezuelans were stopped nearly 10 times more than Mexicans in December. Colombians, Indians, Cubans and Haitians also outnumbered Mexicans.

Mexico began requiring visas for Venezuelans on Jan. 21, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas noted during his contentious Jan. 26 meeting with Yuma agents, according to a recording leaked to the website Townhall, which publishes conservative viewpoints. He said the U.S. was pressing Mexico to accept more nationalities under Title 42 authority and to increase immigration enforcement within its own borders.

Magnus, who reports to Mayorkas, told the AP that migration flows are "increasingly complex" and that the U.S. was "doing our best to build and take advantage of relationships with these different countries that migrants are coming from."

Although President Joe Biden faces many of the same challenges as his predecessors, Donald Trump visited the border often, spent massively on enforcement and got an early endorsement from the agents' union in 2016.

As a Biden appointee and an outsider who had a chilly relationship with Border Patrol leaders in Tucson, Magnus might struggle winning over agents.

Roy Villareal, chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson sector from early 2019 until late 2020, said he sought an introductory meeting with Magnus, who was then Tucson's police chief, but that he never heard back, calling their lack of interaction "a telling sign." Villareal could recall speaking to Magnus only three times during their overlapping tenures — each one a courtesy call from Magnus to inform him that Tucson police were about to arrest one of his agents.

"He's the wrong person for the Border Patrol," said Villareal, who retired after 32 years in the agency. "His knowledge and understanding of border enforcement just isn't there. ... Agents will challenge him."

Others consider Magnus a good fit.

"He is very respected among his colleagues," said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief whose focus on use of force rankled some agents when he held Magnus' job from 2014 to 2017. "Chris' background on holding people accountable is pretty extensive."

Magnus, 61, was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, where he served stints as an emergency dispatcher, paramedic, sheriff's deputy and police captain. He was police chief in Fargo, North Dakota, and Richmond, California, before he took the job in Tucson in January 2016. In that latest role, he took orders from elected leaders in the liberal city of more than 500,000 people.

In Tucson, Magnus created a program to steer people away from drugs, worked with nonprofits helping homeless people and overhauled the department's use-of-force policy. He openly criticized Trump policies for making migrants more reluctant to share information about crimes with police.

CBP critics in Tucson give Magnus mixed reviews. Vicki Gaubeca, of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said he championed "some very progressive policies," but that the Border Patrol needs a visionary who will change what she calls a deep-seated "culture of impunity."

In his final weeks as police chief, Magnus called for the firing of an off-duty officer who shot and killed a suspected shoplifter in a motorized wheelchair, saying it was "a clear violation of department policy." The officer left the department last month.

And in 2020, Magnus offered to resign over an in-custody death that the department failed to make public for two months, but the city manager asked him to stay.

One longstanding issue Magnus faces is allegations of agents using excessive force. Agents have been involved in an increasing number of use-of-force incidents and there have been more fatalities involving Border Patrol agents, though the number of encounters surged at an even higher rate.

Magnus said the use of force is a "very serious concern" and that he believes the overwhelming majority of agents act responsibly. He also defended specialized teams that collect evidence in incidents that might involve agents' excessive use of force. Democratic congressional leaders have expressed serious concerns about the Critical Incident Teams, which some activists allege are shadowy cover-up operations.

"This is really not unusual in most police agencies," Magnus told the AP. "There's absolutely no reason why trained investigators in the field can't be gathering this kind of critical evidence."