By Kenny Stencil
Immigrant rights defenders were encouraged by President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas for Secretary of Homeland Security and expressed hope that the first Latino and immigrant to lead the department will implement humane immigration policies to reverse the damage inflicted by President Donald Trump.
Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), said that “Mayorkas’ keen knowledge of our immigration policies and procedures, as well as his commitment to a fair immigration system, makes him exceptionally qualified.”
Citing his work at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Vargas pointed out that “in addition to his tireless work to make naturalization accessible and affordable, Mayorkas oversaw the building and implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program,” which Trump has attempted to dismantle.
“His work at USCIS also included promoting the importance of working with stakeholders and community organizations,” Vargas added, “where he created the Office of Public Engagement, helping promote and strengthen those relationships.”
Adding to the chorus of approval for Mayorkas was Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Castro said the CHC is eager to work with the nominee to “treat immigrants with dignity and respect.”
“A dedicated public servant and Cuban immigrant, Alejandro Mayorkas is a fantastic choice to lead DHS,” Castro said. “After the cruelty and devastation wrought by the Trump administration, Mayorkas has a mandate to overhaul DHS.”
“As the former deputy secretary of DHS and lead implementer of DACA,” Castro added, “he has the necessary experience to bring about much needed reforms.”
NALEO and CHC’s positive assessments of Mayorkas were mirrored by the leaders of numerous immigrant right organizations.
“Welcomed news,” tweeted Greisa Martínez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream. “Ali Mayorkas will be first Latino to lead DHS. Has been confirmed by Senate 3 times. Helped make DACA a reality. He has a clear mandate with President elect Biden to enact BOLD & SWIFT executive actions that bring accountability to ICE & CBP & reunite our loved ones.”
Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), said that her organization finds the nomination of Mayorkas encouraging.
“DHS is in dire need of a course correction,” Melaku noted, “and we welcome its transition from an enforcement-focused agency to one that prioritizes eliminating barriers in order to achieve greater immigrant and refugee inclusion in our country.”
The NPNA “look[s] forward to working with Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden administration to move our country forward, make immediate and urgently needed changes to federal immigration policy, and bring into focus a new vision for how this country treats immigrant and refugee communities,” she added.
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), said that “we are thrilled with… [the] historic selection,” which she called “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.”
Hincapié described Mayorkas as “someone who will listen to the voices of immigrant communities and will remain responsive to their concerns.”
“Mayorkas has a deep understanding of the complex immigration laws and policies impacting the country,” Hincapié added. “He is compassionate, fair, and deeply committed to restoring due process to our system.”
Mayorkas is the first Latino and Immigrant nominated to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security. He has led a distinguished 30-year career as a law enforcement official and a nationally-recognized lawyer in the private sector. Mayorkas served as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Obama-Biden Administration from 2013 to 2016, and as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013. During his tenure at DHS, he led the implementation of DACA, negotiated cybersecurity and homeland security agreements with foreign governments, led the Department’s response to Ebola and Zika, helped build and administer the Blue Campaign to combat human trafficking, and developed an emergency relief program for orphaned youth following the tragic January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Mayorkas also created the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate to better ensure the integrity of the legal immigration system.
Mayorkas began his government service in the Department of Justice, where he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California, specializing in the prosecution of white-collar crime. After nearly nine years as a federal prosecutor, he became the youngest United States Attorney in the nation, overseeing prosecutions of national significance, including the investigation and prosecution of financial fraud, violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, public corruption, violent crime, cybercrime, environmental crime, international money laundering, and securities fraud.
Mayorkas has also led a distinguished legal career in the private sector, at O’Melveny & Myers and most recently WilmerHale, where he has specialized in strategic counseling and crisis management. He serves several non-profit organizations focused on providing legal services to the poor, refugee resettlement, and education for underprivileged youth.
Mayorkas was born in Havana, Cuba and was the highest-ranking Cuban American to serve in the Obama-Biden Administration. Mayorkas received his bachelor’s degree with distinction from the University of California at Berkeley and a law degree from Loyola Law School.
RAICES, an immigration legal services nonprofit, expressed hope that Mayorkas will “change the direction of DHS once and for all.”
Acknowledging the “crucial role” that he played in creating DACA, the organization “look[s] forward to the immediate expansion of the program and the dismantling of the detention and deportation machine that was created under Obama and expanded by Trump.”
DHS “was built in the wake of 9/11 to protect the U.S. from terrorists,” RAICES noted, “only for it to now be used to terrorize immigrants.”
In order for the Biden administration to “immediately change course,” the group called for “eliminating the ‘good vs bad immigrant’ narrative.”
RAICES also advocated for “dismantling rogue agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection in order to prevent further human rights abuses at the border and the interior of the country.”
Kenny Stancil is a Staff Writer with CommonDreams.
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