Thursday, April 25, 2024

Senate Confirms Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security Secretary

Just yesterday the Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security Secretary making him the first Latino to have a position that will have a central role in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, a Russia- linked cyber hack, and domestic extremism.

Mayorkas was confirmed by a 56-43 vote, the narrowest margin yet for a Biden Cabinet nominee. Mayorkas will be the first immigrant to serve in the job and will lead a broad policy of an agency that was accused of being profoundly politicized as it carried out former President Trump’s initiatives on immigration and law enforcement.

Mayorkas is a former federal prosecutor who served as a senior DHS official. His nomination was stalled in the Senate by Republicans who wanted to question him further on Biden’s plan for immigration policy and on his management of an investor visa program under former President Obama. President Biden’s team had hoped to have Mayorkas confirmed by this past January 20th, but Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri placed a hold before the inauguration, forcing a delay in the confirmation vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated, “My friends on the other side don’t have to agree with Mr. Mayorkas on the finer points of every policy, but surely we can all agree that he knows the department, he understands the threats to our nation’s security and has what it takes to lead DHS”.

Even several Republican senators who has expressed reservations about the nomination admitted that the DHS needed a confirmed secretary with the nation facing so many challenges, including the aftermath of the January 6th domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol Before he voted, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio stated, “I drove through the National Guard again to get here this morning. We’ve got some real issues”.  Portman was among a half-dozen of Republicans who ultimately voted in favor of the nomination.

Mayorkas was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris later yesterday. Mayorkas, whose family came to the U.S. from Cuba as refugees in 1960’s and whose mother had also fled the Holocaust, was a federal prosecutor in Southern California before he joined the Obama administration, first as head of the immigration services agency and then as deputy secretary of DHS.

Under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security was frequently in turmoil and mired in controversy. The agency carried our heavy-handed immigration enforcement initiatives, most well-known for separating migrant children from their families. Mayorkas will now work to reunite the separated families as the head of a task force that Biden launched yesterday.  Mayorkas who also rejected a proposal to separate families when he served under Obama, has pledged to “end the inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants” but also maintain border enforcement. During the hearing for his confirmation Mayorkas stated, “we are a nation of immigration and we are also a nation of laws”.