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Alejandro Mayorkas was announced as President Joe Biden's DHS Secretary on Nov. 23, 2020. Photo: Getty Images.
Alejandro Mayorkas was announced as President Joe Biden's DHS Secretary on Nov. 23, 2020. Photo: Getty Images.

Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed as the first Latino to lead the DHS, enters with a mountain of work ahead

Born in Havana, Cuba, Mayorkas’ family fled the Cuban Revolution to settle in the U.S. in the 1960s.

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In a Senate confirmation hearing on Feb. 2, 2021, Cuban-Jewish lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas not only became the first Latino to ever officially lead the Department of Homeland Security, but also the first immigrant to do so too.

Following President Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 election, Mayorkas was one of the first cabinet appointees announced by the president-elect’s transition team on Nov. 23.

Before the appointment, Mayorkas was the highest-ranking Cuban-American to serve in President Barack Obama’s administration in two roles. 

First, he was the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013 before rising to Deputy DHS Secretary and serving between 2013 and 2016.

In his time under Obama, Mayorkas led discussions that resulted in agreements over cybersecurity with foreign governments, coordinated DHS’ response to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, helped set up aid infrastructure in response to the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti, and developed approaches to combating human trafficking worldwide.

Under Biden, Mayorkas stands on the front line of what many human-rights activists and progressive leaders hope will be a “sweeping” change to the country’s immigration system.

The president has signed a number of executive orders in his first couple weeks in office to undo much of what his predecessor did to dehumanize immigrants, especially those crossing the southern border. 

However, the actions so far have not been anything but a return to the pre-Trump era, which also wasn’t great for immigrants, especially undocumented ones.

Trump-era moves and judicial appointees also also look to be hamstrings to Biden’s immigration reform efforts.

While Biden will take the heat from the press and his presidential election supporters, it is Mayorkas who will play the key role of navigating a path forward for the president and achieving some of the “sweeping” change that’s expected.

He will also help with extracting some of the deepest thorns Trump planted in Biden before leaving office — one of them being the reunification of families separated at the border under the previous administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

Biden also announced on Feb. 2 through executive order, the creation of a family unification “task force” to reunite families still separated.

It will be led by Mayorkas and have 120 days, or four months, to file a report on its efforts.

According to the White House, there are still 600 to 700 children still separated from their families as a result of the previous administration’s policies. 

In some cases, there are also few records to go on.  

In short, Mayorkas may have made history, but he has a mountain of work to undo the history that preceded him.

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