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Biden picks Alejandro Mayorkas to head Homeland Security

The Cuban refugee would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve as DHS chief

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Cuban refugee Alejandro Mayorkas to be his Homeland Security secretary, his transition team announced Monday, tapping the first Latino and immigrant to serve in that role.

Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor who served as DHS deputy secretary in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2016, would oversee a sprawling department that in recent years has experienced frequent turnover and low morale. DHS includes three immigration agencies along with the Transportation Security Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service and several other agencies.

During his time at DHS, where he also served as director of the department’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013, Mayorkas served as the architect of the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that has allowed immigrants who came to the U.S. unlawfully as children to live and work in the country without fear of deportation. 

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Mayorkas would be expected to follow Biden’s plans to reverse numerous hard-line policies laid out by the current Trump administration, which has rolled out more than 400 executive actions on immigration alone, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. 

Among other things, Mayorkas, 60, would be be tasked with reinstating DACA and terminating the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which frequently is called the “Remain in Mexico” policy because it has forced thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in the United States. 

He also would have to unravel several border-centric immigration policies designed to deter migrants from entering the U.S. unlawfully and address recent DHS efforts that have allowed federal law enforcement officers to be deployed across the country to crack down on protesters. 

Born in Havana, Mayorkas was the highest-ranking Cuban American to serve in the Obama-Biden administration, according to a news release from the Biden transition team. The president-elect, who previously has said he sought a diverse Cabinet that “looks like America,” announced the nomination along with his picks of Antony Blinken as secretary of State, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser and John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.

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Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican considered likely to become chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee if Republicans retain control of the Senate, did not comment on the announcement but “will consider the nomination when it comes before the committee,” according to his spokeswoman, Emily Benavides.

Portman now chairs the panel’s investigations subcommittee. Current Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs chairman, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is term-limited from continuing in the role.

The committee’s ranking member Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who would become chairman if Democrats take control, praised Biden’s choice.

“Our nation faces persistent threats, both longstanding and new, including foreign and domestic terrorism, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and now a pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security plays a critical role in addressing these threats and strengthening our national security, and it needs highly qualified, experienced and dedicated leaders, like Mr. Mayorkas — especially following years of chaos and mismanagement,” Peters said in a statement. 

“I appreciate that President-Elect Biden chose to nominate a qualified candidate with extensive private and public sector security experience, including several senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security. I look forward to working with him as part of the confirmation process and finding commonsense solutions to the serious threats facing our nation.”

Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration, also welcomed Mayorka’s appointment.

“Alejandro Mayorkas is a historic and experienced choice to lead an agency in desperate need of reform. As an immigrant and a creator of the DACA program, he’s well suited to undo Trump’s damage and build a more compassionate and common sense immigration agenda,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, an organization founded by business and technology leaders, also welcomed the nomination.

“FWD.us congratulates Alejandro Mayorkas on this announcement and commends President-elect Biden for this choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security. This is welcome news for our country,” Schulte said in a statement. “He comes with the deep respect of the business community, national security and foreign policy experts, immigration reformers, and elected officials and career civil servants from across the ideological spectrum.”

If his nomination is approved, Mayorkas would replace acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, the fifth person in the Trump administration to head the department.

Wolf’s appointment has been under intense scrutiny after the Government Accountability Office found that Wolf was unlawfully elevated to his position as part of a series of appointments that violated the government’s succession rules. Several Democratic lawmakers have since called for Wolf to step down. He was appointed as acting secretary in November 2019 but only recently nominated formally to the role. The Senate has yet to confirm his nomination.    

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