Former Obama administration official Alejandro Mayorkas was tapped Monday to lead the Department of Homeland Security by President-elect Joe Biden, signaling an intent to bring experienced leadership to the third-largest federal department after years of instability.
The announcement was immediately met with praise from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers, as well as former and current officials who have expressed concern over the politicization of the department from some of its top leaders.
Over the last four years, the rotating acting leadership at DHS has disrupted some of President Donald Trump’s actions, including a second attempt to curtail the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It’s also contributed to unpredictability within the department.
In responding to the news, Mayorkas alluded to the challenges facing DHS and cited his background as an immigrant.
“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. 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,” Mayorkas tweeted.
If confirmed, Mayorkas would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of the department, which has been pounded and dragged into politics under Trump.
Mayorkas had been the rumored pick for weeks – a welcome selection among some current and former officials who emphasized the need for a leader with experience at DHS. And to that end, Mayorkas has plenty.
Under Obama, Mayorkas served as both the DHS deputy secretary and the director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, an immigration agency within the department, where he was integral to the implementation of DACA. The program, which the Trump administration has tried to end, shields from deportation undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.
Mayorkas will likely play a key role in rolling back Trump administration immigration policies, given that many of those changes came out of DHS. He is intimately familiar with the agency – USCIS – at the center of some of the most restrictionist policies, including those making asylum exceedingly difficult to obtain.
Since Trump took office, DHS has had five secretaries, only two of whom have been confirmed by the Senate, and has run into a flurry of questions over the legitimacy and authority of those leading in acting capacities. The last Senate-confirmed secretary was Kirstjen Nielsen. She left in April 2019.
In August, Trump nominated Chad Wolf to be Homeland Security secretary, after months of Wolf serving in the post. Wolf has still not