The incoming Biden-Harris administration has announced its choice for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas.
If confirmed, Mayorkas will represent several historic firsts for the department—he will be the first Latino and immigrant to lead DHS. This is a significant departure from the leadership installed at DHS under the Trump administration. His understanding of immigration issues runs deep, both personally and professionally.
Mayorkas is a veteran from the Obama-Biden administration as well. He served as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from 2009 to 2013 and then as deputy secretary of DHS from 2013 to 2016.
As head of DHS, much of President-elect Biden’s immigration agenda will be carried out by Mayorkas.
This includes rebuilding a robust process for welcoming refugees into the United States, expanding relief for immigrants, and investing in case management programs to end prolonged detention.
Restoring America’s Commitment to Refugees
The United States has long had a commitment to accepting and helping refugees from around the world—a commitment that allowed Mayorkas and his family to build a life in the United States after fleeing their native Cuba.
President Trump worked to dismantle much of the U.S. refugee system at a time when the refugee crisis is at an all-time high. 70 million men, women, and children are currently displaced due to war, conflict, persecution, and natural disasters.
Despite the clear need for global support, Trump slashed the number of refugee admissions to a meager 15,000 people, the lowest number in U.S. history. President-elect Biden hopes to restore it.
Under DHS Secretary Mayorkas’ leadership, the Biden administration plans to set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000 and raise it when demand increases.
Mayorkas’ identity as a refugee is important to him. In announcing his nomination to the position, he commented:
“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.”
DHS will also implement several strategies to understand the root causes of forced migration and make improvements to countries’ living conditions. This will include providing financial aid to local governments to combat gang and gender-based violence and strengthen regional humanitarian responses.
Expanding Relief to Immigrants
Mayorkas oversaw the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative in a record 60 days under the Obama administration.
The approximately 650,000 recipients of DACA currently face a great deal of uncertainty as executive actions and court challenges have left the initiative on shaky ground.
The Biden administration has committed to fully reinstating DACA while simultaneously exploring legislation to provide citizenship to Dreamers.
During his time as USCIS director, Mayorkas also championed the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) initiative. This would have protected the parents of U.S. citizen children from deportation and allowed them to apply for a renewable work permit in the United States.
If confirmed, there is a likelihood that Mayorkas will look to secure similar protections again for more than just Dreamers.
Investing in Case Management Programs
The Biden administration wants to end for-profit detention as well as prolonged detention—particularly of minors and families—and reinvest in case management programs. As head of DHS, Mayorkas will help spearhead this effort.
These alternative to detention (ATD) programs are safer and more cost effective than keeping people locked up. They allow people to move out of government custody while they go through complicated immigration proceedings. ATD programs partner with local nonprofits to provide people with necessities such as legal assistance, food, shelter, or access to medical care.
The programs have great success rates—and have been shown to increase the rate at which people appear for court and check-ins with the government, all at lesser costs to the American taxpayer.
Mayorkas will have a full agenda to tackle if he is confirmed as DHS secretary. His decades-long professional experience and personal relationship to the issue of immigration would bring a unique perspective to the department.
FILED UNDER: Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden-Harris Administration, Department of Homeland Security