Posted on November 24, 2020

First Latino Tapped to Head DHS Signals Shift from Trump’s Hard-Line Immigration Policies

Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News, November 23, 2020

Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latino chosen for President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet, will head a Department of Homeland Security that is expected to drastically overhaul President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, as well as put Mayorkas at the forefront of the new administration’s anti-terrorism strategy.

Mayorkas will be the first Latino and first immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security, if confirmed by the Senate. The highest-ranking Cuban American in the Obama administration, Mayorkas was deputy secretary of DHS under then-Secretary Jeh Johnson, and before that was the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, a part of DHS that oversees granting citizenship and other immigration benefits.


The Trump administration has drastically transformed the nation’s immigration system with over 400 executive actions — including refusing entry to asylum-seekers, taking children from parents at the border and restricting travel to the U.S. by Muslims.

There will be pressure on the Biden administration to act quickly on immigration and uphold pledges he made on the campaign trail, such as ending travel bans and protecting young immigrants, known as Dreamers, and to take such actions in the first 100 days of his administration.


Mayorkas, who turns 61 Tuesday, was born in Havana, but his family fled when he was an infant. His father was born in Cuba with Sephardic roots, and his mother is a Romanian Jew who fled the Holocaust, according to a report by The Jerusalem Post. He has said that his family’s background has long shaped his identity.

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge,” Mayorkas said in a tweet on Monday. “Now I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.


Biden’s selection of Mayorkas was supported by several immigrant advocacy groups despite record deportations under the Obama administration. Mayorkas became DHS deputy secretary in 2013, after Obama had revised his deportation policy and authorized DACA. {snip}

Mayorkas was instrumental in shaping DACA, the Obama-era program that allows young immigrants without legal status to remain legally in the country and work and study without fear of deportation. Trump has tried to end the program but has been stopped by the courts.

Some 800,000 young adults are in the program, for which many more are believed qualified.


Latino groups have been pressing Biden to name Hispanics to several Cabinet positions to reflect the size of the U.S. Latino population. Latinos voted for Biden by a little more than 2-to-1 in the Nov. 3 election.


Mayorkas went through the Senate confirmation process when he was nominated for DHS deputy secretary and also to head Citizenship and Immigration Services. {snip}

At the time he had been under investigation for a visa program that he managed. He was not found to have committed any wrongdoing, but was criticized for the appearance of exerting undue influence to grant certain visas.

Mayorkas also was chastised for calling the Bill Clinton White House to ask for a commutation for convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali. {snip}