Biden picks first Latino to lead Homeland Security

President-elect Biden is naming Alejandro Mayorkas as the next secretary of the Homeland Security Department, the first Latino to lead the department at the center of immigration policy.

Hispanic community advocates and immigration activists praised the selection, saying Mayorkas is a homeland security professional with personal empathy for immigrants.

“We are thrilled with President-elect Biden’s historic selection of Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

“This represents an exemplary choice that will not only serve our next president, and the American people well, but also sends a strong signal to immigrant communities that the Biden administration fully intends to follow through on their commitment to undo the harms of the Trump administration,” added Hincapié.

Mayorkas, 60, is a lawyer best known for his stints as director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and as deputy secretary of Homeland Security, the number two spot at the agency.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) called Mayorkas’s appointment “fantastic,” and called on Biden to appoint four more Hispanics to his Cabinet.

“As the former Deputy Secretary of DHS and lead implementor of DACA, he has the necessary experience to bring about much needed reforms. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus looks forward to working with Alejandro Mayorkas to treat immigrants with dignity and respect,” said Castro in a statement.

Mayorkas’s selection shows the incoming Biden administration is targeting President Trump’s executive overhaul of the immigration system, regardless of the likelihood of congressional gridlock on the legislative end.

“America and the Biden administration face a huge task to undo Trump’s original sin — his relentless cruelty towards and demonization of immigrants and refugees, and to build through administrative and legislative reform an immigration system that reflects our commitment to being a welcoming nation,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a progressive immigration advocacy organization.

“Alejandro Mayorkas is an inspired choice. He’s the right person to undo Trump’s cruelties, advance fair and humane policies, and deliver on the bold change the American people strongly support,” added Sharry.

Mayorkas, who was reportedly in consideration for the post along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, brings experience within DHS to the table, a critical element for an agency with more than 200,000 employees and a recurrent morale issue.

The Mayorkas pick comes with former USCIS Chief Counsel Ur Jaddou heading the Biden-Harris transition DHS agency review team. Jaddou served at USCIS while Mayorkas was deputy secretary.

Immigration activists would likely welcome a Jaddou appointment to head USCIS; she has led the DHS Watch project at America’s Voice since leaving her post at USCIS in early 2017.

Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, will become the seventh formally-appointed DHS secretary in history if he’s confirmed by the Senate.

But he would take the reins of the agency after a leadership morass in the second half of the Trump administration.

While Trump’s DHS has formally been led by John Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen, in practice Trump has run through five DHS chiefs: Kelly, Nielsen, Elaine Duke, Kevin McAleenan and Chad Wolf.

Under Trump, DHS’s role as a national security clearinghouse, responsible for coordinating agencies on issues from terrorism to natural disasters, has taken a back seat to the agency’s broad immigration administration and enforcement roles.

Those immigration responsibilities have put the department at odds with immigrant communities since its creation in 2003.

That rift grew under President Obama, particularly as large-scale deportations shook mixed-status communities, but the immigrant community’s trust of DHS institutions was shattered under Trump’s aggressive executive actions.

“After four long, dark years of Mexicans being painted as ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals,’ children being separated from their parents, repeated assaults on DACA and a general contempt for Latinos from the highest office in the land, Mayorkas’ nomination signals a new day for the Department of Homeland Security and for all our country,” said Janet Murguía, head of UnidosUS, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights association.

As the first Latino, and the first immigrant, to hold the DHS role, Mayorkas could find some cover from the political flak that’s inevitable as the country’s official in charge of deportations.

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. 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,” wrote Mayorkas on Twitter

Tags Chad Wolf Department of Homeland Security Diversity & Inclusion Donald Trump Elaine Duke Immigration John Kelly Kirstjen Nielsen United States Department of Homeland Security Xavier Becerra

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