President-elect Joe Biden remains determined to fulfill his promise to deliver the most diverse administration the White House has ever seen.
Last Monday, Biden announced his intention to nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, a 61-year-old Cuban-American born in Havana, to head the Department of Homeland Security, the government agency that oversees immigration issues.
According to NPR, Mayorkas, who would be the first Latino and first immigrant to hold that position, was previously the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Obama administration.
Mayorkas also served as Deputy Secretary of DHS.
Following the announcement, Mayorkas tweeted, “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’ family fled as political refugees to Miami from Cuba and settled in Los Angeles. Currently, the nominee is an attorney at WilmerHale, but his legacy during the Obama administration included designing and implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In announcing his choice, Biden said that Mayorkas “will play a critical role in fixing our broken immigration system and 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.”
According to NBC News, Mayorkas, the highest-ranking Cuban-American in White House history, will take over the nation’s third-largest agency in terms of employees, if confirmed.
DHS, an office created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, oversees several smaller agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service.
Following one of the most aggressive administrations against immigration succeeds, with over 400 executive actions including the separation of families at the border, the challenge for the Biden-Harris administration, and Mayorkas, is no less.
Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “It sends a signal that the Biden administration is serious about reforming all the wrongs that have happened to our immigration system in the past four years because by selecting someone who has deep immigration expertise as secretary, it signals that this will be a big priority.”
Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said one of Mayorkas’ biggest challenges would be at the U.S. border with Mexico, which the Trump administration has virtually sealed.
“The southern border, I think, is the most immediate and the most delicate and complicated challenge that a new administration will face, because there it’s certainly clear that a Biden administration is committed to a more fair process at the southern border to not violating U.S. law, violating international law in the way that the Trump administration has done. But at the same time,” Meissner said, “it will not want to send out the signal that for some reason, people should just expect to be able to come to the United States.”
In a statement, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said that “following years of chaos and mismanagement, I appreciate that President-elect Biden chose to nominate a qualified candidate with extensive private and public sector security experience, including several senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security. I look forward to working with him as part of the confirmation process and finding commonsense solutions to the serious threats facing our nation.”