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U.S. border protection chief resigns

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Department of Homeland Security
Robert C. Bonner
New Mexico
Mexico

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Robert C. Bonner, said Wednesday that he will retire.

He and the Bush administration have been at odds over his support for using civilian "minutemen" along the U.S.-Mexico border to assist border patrol agents. President Bush has equated the self-proclaimed volunteer group with "vigilantes."

Bonner told CNN on Wednesday that he was not asked to resign. He told reporters that it was "just time."

"I mean, I didn't come back here to serve a life tenure," he told reporters. "I came back to serve. And I have put in four solid years. I think I've done my duty, and it's a good time to move on."

He notified President Bush of his plans earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security said in a written statement.

"Rob Bonner has been an integral part of the Department of Homeland Security leadership team since its inception," said his boss, Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

"I've known Rob for many years; he is an outstanding public servant and will be greatly missed here at the department. I appreciate the commitment and service he has shown in directing our border security efforts," Chertoff said.

Bonner was sworn in as commissioner of U.S. Customs less than two weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. During his tenure the agency had a key role in the war on terror.

His departure will leave three top positions within the department vacant: the chiefs of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It was during his tenure that the three separate agencies, with its 42,000 employees, merged into the Department of Homeland Security when it was formed in 2003.

Meanwhile, high rates of illegal immigration prompted the governors of Arizona and New Mexico this year to declare states of emergency along their borders.

Bonner's last day has been unspecified to allow for a smooth transition.

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