EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Much like his boss — President-elect Joe Biden — Alejandro Mayorkas should step into a new job next January preceded by high hopes and facing even higher expectations.
“He will have to reverse all of the abusive and inhumane policies against migrants, particularly on the border, that Trump put in place. That is the expectation,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
Biden on Monday said he would nominate Mayorkas, a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary in the Obama administration, to head the agency. Mayorkas is a Cuban-born former federal prosecutor and, if confirmed, would become the first Hispanic to lead the agency.
While DHS in recent years has made headlines for efforts to contain the migrant surge from Central America and issues surrounding migrant detention, Mayorkas dealt mostly with the granting of benefits.
He headed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from 2009-2013. In mid-2012, he was tasked with implementing Obama’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which suspended deportation for qualifying undocumented immigrants brought into the country prior to their 16th birthday.
In 2014, Obama named him Deputy Secretary of DHS and the Senate confirmed him on a split vote after allegations of favoritism in the issuance of investor visas (EB-5).
“There are enormous tasks to confront and we are confident that Secretary Mayorkas will be prepared to undertake them successfully. One of them is working with President Biden in the first 100 days to extend DACA for 800,000 young adults who entered the United States as minors and are qualified to receive protection against forced removal from the country,” said Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Other Latino leaders said a change of course is overdue at DHS and the White House.
“After four long dark years of Mexicans being painted as rapists and criminals, children being separated from their parents, repeated assaults on DACA and a general contempt for Latinos from the highest office in the land, Mayorkas’ nomination signals a new day for DHS and for all our country,” said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza).
But that “new day” includes quite a wish list from migrant advocates and Latino rights groups.
“The task is enormous, from bringing children back together with their parents to declare a moratorium on migrant deportations. That is what was asked of Biden and he said he would assume that responsibility,” Garcia said.
Mayorkas in a Monday tweet signaled he would protect refugees.
“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,” he tweeted.
The new future head of DHS must also restore the asylum process after the Trump administration gutted it and ensure that detention centers provide adequate and humane conditions for migrants, particularly families, he added.
And he has to play a role in the fight against COVID-19, an issue that analysts have told Border Report will consume much of the new administration’s first year in office. During Mayorkas’ stint at DHS 2014-2016, the agency had to deal with a response to the Ebola and zika viruses in the United States.
Murguia said Mayorkas already has the support of many in the Hispanic community and stakeholders, such as immigrant rights, business, labor and law enforcement groups and members of Congress.
“This is a historic and inspired choice at a critical time. He has the expertise, experience and a proven track record of effective and humane policymaking and implementation,” she said.