Mayorkas confirmed as secretary of Homeland Security

Mayorkas confirmed as secretary of Homeland Security

Originally Published in Politico

Sabrina Rodriguez - February 2, 2021

The new DHS chief is entering the role with a long to-do list on immigration, national security and pandemic response.

Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed on Tuesday to serve as secretary of Homeland Security, putting him in charge of carrying out the Biden administration’s immigration agenda and tackling national security concerns.

The Senate backed Mayorkas in a 56-43 vote, the tightest confirmation vote for a Biden nominee so far.

Mayorkas is expected to get to work immediately, after attending an event at the White House on Tuesday afternoon where President Joe Biden signed three immigration-related executive orders. Vice President Kamala Harris did a ceremonial swearing-in for Mayorkas directly afterward.

The new DHS secretary is entering the role with a long to-do list. He will play a key role in carrying out Biden’s immigration agenda, protecting the U.S. from domestic terrorism threats and helping coordinate coronavirus vaccine distribution. DHS, the nation’s third-largest federal department, also oversees emergency management and cybersecurity and infrastructure security.

On Tuesday afternoon, Biden announced that Mayorkas would be the head of a task force to reunite families separated at the southern border under the Trump administration. As part of his new duties, Mayorkas will also review the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols program that has forced tens of thousands people to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are processed.

He’s the first Senate-confirmed leader of DHS since Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted from the role in April 2019. Acting Secretary Chad Wolf resigned shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Wolf cited ongoing court rulings challenging the legality of his appointment to the post as one of the reasons for his departure.

Mayorkas is the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the department. He’s a Cuban-born lawyer and one of the chief architects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He served as DHS deputy secretary and director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Barack Obama.

Senate Democrats and the Biden administration had pushed to get Mayorkas confirmed by Biden’s inauguration, but it was delayed over Republican pushback. Some Republicans maintained that there were several issues with his nomination, including a 2015 DHS inspector general report that found Mayorkas showed “an appearance of favoritism and special access” for certain visa recipients. Others more explicitly criticized him for his — and Biden’s — views on immigration.

“Not only has Mayorkas pledged to undo the sensible protections put in place by the Trump Administration that ended the dangerous policy of catch and release, but his nomination is further evidence that the Biden Administration intends to pursue a radical immigration agenda,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a fellow Cuban-American, said in a statement opposing Mayorkas’ confirmation.

Mayorkas received support from six Republican senators: Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkoswki of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Mitt Romney of Utah.

Democrats and immigrant advocate groups were quick to welcome Mayorkas’ confirmation as the beginning of a new chapter in U.S. immigration policy. Sergio Gonzales, interim executive director of the Immigration Hub, pointed out that Mayorkas’ past experience at DHS would serve him well in making changes at the department.

“With Mayorkas at the helm, DHS and the Biden administration must act immediately to undo Stephen Miller’s mass enforcement apparatus and prioritize legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants across the country, including essential workers, immigrant youth and individuals with Temporary Protected Status,” Gonzales said, referring to the former Trump senior adviser.

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