Biden names Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-American immigrant, to head Homeland Security

Monique O. Madan, David Smiley

President-elect Joe Biden announced Monday he will nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-American immigrant, to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Mayorkas would be the first immigrant and the first Hispanic to lead the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Mayorkas, 60, was born in Havana and lived as a child in Miami before his family moved to Los Angeles. After being confirmed by the Senate as deputy secretary of DHS under the Obama-Biden administration, he held the post from 2013-16. He also led the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009-13.

Before being named by Biden, Mayorkas was working in the private sector at WilmerHale, an international law firm with offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia., where he specialized in strategic counseling and crisis management.

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

In a statement, the Biden transition team emphasized how Mayorkas “will play a critical role in fixing our broken immigration system.”

He “understands that living up to our values and protecting our nation’s security aren’t mutually exclusive — and under his leadership, they’ll go hand-in-hand,” the statement said. “During his tenure at DHS, he led the development and implementation of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] 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.”

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s office released a statement saying Mayorkas’ nomination will depend on the official certification of the presidential election results.

“First, the election results need to be certified. Once every legal vote has been counted, Senator Scott will review each potential nominee’s background and qualifications, including whether they plan to stand up to our adversaries around the world, such as Communist China and Iran,” his office said in a statement emailed to the Herald.

Mayorkas received his bachelor’s degree with distinction from the University of California at Berkeley and a law degree from Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University. He currently serves on several nonprofit organizations focused on refugee resettlement, providing legal services to the poor, and education for underprivileged youth.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a national organization that financially helps refugees resettle in the U.S., called the news a “big win for immigrant representation.”

“His nomination represents a shift from DHS Secretaries that have been complicit in the heartless and illegal separation of migrant families to a tested leader responsible for implementing the DACA program and protecting more than 700,000 DREAMers from deportation,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the nonprofit’s president.

Maria Rodríguez, a spokesperson for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the immigration advocacy group is hoping to see Mayorkas “dismantle the detention, deportation machinery that has been so costly financially and morally to our country during the Trump administration.”

“He understands that what immigrants need is an opportunity and integration; that their success is equal to the nation’s success.”

Randy McGrorty, a longtime Miami immigration lawyer and executive director of Catholic Legal Services, which provides free representation for low-income immigrants, says he has high hopes for Mayorkas.

Catholic Legal Services worked closely with Mayorkas in his previous role as director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, particularly during the registration period for Haitian Temporary Protected Status in 2010-11, said McGrorty, who currently represents dozens of Cuban detainees in ICE detention.

“I am encouraged by his openness to community concerns, his thoughtfulness, and his knowledge, not only of immigration law, but the practical, human consequences of federal policy. He knows the South Florida community well and I am hopeful he will quickly address its unique and pressing issues.”