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Alejandro Mayorkas Becomes 1st Latino & 1st Immigrant Leader of DHS

Created: 02 February, 2021
Updated: 26 July, 2022
3 min read


By Sandra G. Leon

The US Senate today confirmed President Joe Biden’s appointment of Alejandro Mayorkas to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Mayorkas, 61, is the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead the federal cabinet level agency that oversees eight federal law enforcement and emergency response departments, including ICE, Customs and Border Protection, the US Secret Service, FEMA, the US Coast Guard, the TSA, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, many of which handle immigration and border issues.

“The principles of homeland and security have been tremendously important in shaping my life,” Mayorkas said during his Senate confirmation hearing. “My father and mother brought me to this country to escape communism and to provide me with the security, opportunity, and pride that American citizenship brings to each of us.”

Previously, Mayorkas served as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama. During his tenure, Mayorkas led DHS’s response to the 2013 Ebola virus and the 2015 Zika virus epidemics.

President Biden has signaled he will use executive orders to undo dozens of actions taken by the Trump Administration to limit, restrict, and, in some case, deny immigration paths to foreigners, primarily from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Last week, Biden delayed signing several executive orders on immigration on issues ranging from reuniting families still split up by Trump’s punitive family separation policy to reviewing of policies that forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers forced back to Mexico. The President signed those orders today after Mayorkas was confirmation. Mayorkas was immediately sworn in as Secretary of DHS by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Originally a private attorney, Mayorkas was appointed Assistant US Attorney for the Central District of California in 1989 where he prosecuted the largest money laundering case in the country, the prosecution of high-profile escort leader Heidi Fleiss, and two large telemarketing scams that targeted seniors.

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In 1998, Mayorkas was elevated to be the US Attorney in the office by then-President Bill Clinton. In that post, Mayorkas prosecuted Mexican mafia death penalty cases, the shooter in the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting, and violent 18th Street gang members in Los Angeles.

Mayorkas returned to private law practice in 2001 and was later named one of the “50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” by The National Law Review.

After Barack Obama’s election win in November 2008, Mayorkas was appointed to the presidential transition team and handled the hand-ver of the US Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Obama then named Mayorkas to serve as Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), one of the agencies under DHS. USCIS handles immigrant visa petitions, naturalization applications, asylum applications, applications for green cards, and refugee applications.

In 2012, Mayorkas implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allowed undocumented immigrants that came to the US as minors to obtain 2-year deportation reprieves and work permits to become legally employed while their status was being reviewed.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Mayorkas emigrated to the US in 1960 with his sister and parents as the fled the Cuban revolution. Both of his parents are Jewish.

After living in Miami, Florida, the family settled in Los Angeles where Mayorkas attended Beverly Hills High School, later earned his BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and his law degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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