President-elect Joe Biden announced this week he intends to nominate Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, the first immigrant and Latino to do so. The Cuban American was deputy secretary of DHS under former Secretary Jeh Johnson and the director of USCIS during former President Barack Obama’s term. If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mayorkas will also oversee other agencies that include Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service.
Mayorkas was born in Havana, and his family fled as political refugees to Miami, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Mayorkas developed and implemented within sixty days the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), through which more than 700,000 youth have benefited.
While Mayorkas was director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, immigration benefits application fees went up — but not the citizenship application fees — because “requesting and obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves special consideration,” he said at the time.
Mayorkas went through the Senate confirmation process when he was nominated for DHS deputy secretary and also to head Citizenship and Immigration Services. He was confirmed as the DHS’ No. 2 official on a 54-41 vote with no Republicans voting for him, including two fellow Cuban Americans, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Mayorkas was instrumental in shaping DACA, the Obama-era program that allows young immigrants without legal status to remain in the U.S. to work and study without fear of deportation. Some 800,000 young adults are in the program, for which many more are believed qualified.
The DACA program allows immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children to remain in the U.S., and they are given permission to work or go to school. The current administration has tried to undo the program, but a federal judge ruled that the acting DHS Secretary was improperly serving in his role, and his order to limit the program was illegal.
The current administration has drastically transformed the nation’s immigration system with over 400 executive actions — including refusing entry to asylum-seekers, taking children from parents at the border, and restricting travel to the U.S. by Muslims.
There will be pressure on the incoming Biden administration to act quickly on immigration and uphold pledges he made on the campaign trail, such as ending travel bans and protecting young immigrants, known as Dreamers within the first 100 days of his administration.
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