Biden to nominate first Latino and immigrant to run Homeland Security

Alejandro Mayorkas was director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services during Obama administration

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Monday 23 November 2020 18:42 GMT
Biden warns 'more people may die' if Trump refuses to co-operate on transition
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President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate the first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security, his transition office announced.

Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as deputy DHS secretary from 2013 to 2016 under the Obama administration, is among Mr Biden's first wave of Cabinet nominees. He is a Cuban-born immigrant. His family fled the Fidel Castro-led revolution.

He also is a former US attorney in California and was director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services during Barack Obama's first term.

Mr Mayorkas, if confirmed, would take over a department that for much of the Trump presidency defined his hardline policies that fired up his conservative base.

The soon-to-be-nominee will have to deal with policies like one under which the Trump administration has separated migrant children from their parents, and the much-talked-about Trump southern border barrier, among others.

There also is the 45th president’s travel ban that restricts entry into the United States for individuals from some Muslim-majority countries.

Mr Mayorkas was included in a broader announcement of a handful of other nominees and appointments, including Antony Blinken, a former deputy Secretary of State, to lead the State Department and a former chief diplomat, John Kerry, to serve as Mr Biden’s climate czar to the world.

“We have no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy. I need a team ready on Day One to help me reclaim America’s seat at the head of the table, rally the world to meet the biggest challenges we face, and advance our security, prosperity, and values," the president-elect said in a statement. “This is the crux of that team. These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative.

“Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits — or without diversity of background and perspective," Mr Biden added. “It’s why I’ve selected them.”

The Biden transition team released its first batch of Cabinet-level posts just as First Lady Melania Trump stepped outside the White House to receive a Christmas tree. Donald Trump has attended the annual ritual in the past, but did not accompany his wife on Monday.

US First Lady Melania Trump receives the White House Christmas Tree at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 23, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump receives the White House Christmas Tree at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 23, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

While deputy DHS secretary, Mr Mayorkas was its “second-in-command and the Chief Operating Officer of the third largest Department in the United States government, overseeing a $60 billion budget and helping lead a workforce of nearly 230,000 individuals throughout the world,” according to a 2016 DHS fact sheet. 

“As the Deputy Secretary, Mayorkas developed and implemented policies, budget, and operational plans to achieve the Department's critical missions in such homeland security areas as counterterrorism, cyber security, border security, trade and travel, emergency management, aviation security, dignitary protection, maritime security, and the fair and efficient administration of immigration law," states the fact sheet.

Despite that experience, Mr Mayorkas’s policy work could create some bumpy moments during his Senate confirmation hearing.

In both his Obama administration roles, he dealt keenly with the the DACA programme, which has been criticised by some  Republican lawmakers. 

He also played a major role in the Obama team’s efforts, later undone by Mr Trump, to normalise relations with his home country, Cuba.

There also is a 2015 DHS inspector general report that found he created an “appearance of favoritism and special access” for the way he oversaw a programme that grants visas and green cards. Mr Mayorkas was seen as giving special treatment to investors in projects in Nevada and Virginia that were pushed for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the former and former Governor Terry McAuliffe in the latter. Both are influential Democrats, even out of office.


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