Alejandro Mayorkas becomes first Latino, first immigrant to lead Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday and will become the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite opposition from Senate Republicans, Mayorkas secured enough votes for confirmation, by a 56-43 vote. It was one the closest votes for any of President Joe Biden’s nominees thus far.

Biden had asked for speedy confirmation of his national security nominees as he filled his Cabinet, but Senate Republicans had objected to Mayorkas’ confirmation, citing concerns about how he settled disputes in a visa program during a previous post in the department, delaying the process.

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for counterterrorism, cybersecurity, border security, enforcement of the United States’ immigration laws and more. As DHS Secretary, Mayorkas will lead a task force on family separation, focused largely on reuniting migrant parents and their children who remain apart.

Mayorkas arrived in the U.S. from Cuba in 1960 with his parents as refugees from Fidel Castro’s regime. He previously has been deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and headed its citizenship agency.

During his confirmation hearing, Mayorkas faced pointed questions from Senate Republicans about his background, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged Republicans to vote against his confirmation, slamming the nominee in a Tuesday morning Senate floor speech as an “ethically-compromised partisan lawyer.”

The Biden administration is set to announce a series of executive actions Tuesday afternoon rolling back some of former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies.

The visa dispute highlighted by Senate Republicans dealt with the EB-5 program that encourages business investment to create jobs. An inspector general’s report that found Mayorkas communicated with stakeholders outside the normal process and without his intervention cases “would have been decided differently.”

But the report also said that Mayorkas’s actions were legal and “legitimately within his purview” as director. Mayorkas said it was his job to resolve disputes in a complex bureaucracy.

He helped create a new office to oversee EB-5 reviews, revamped the evaluation process and enhanced the program’s fraud and security safeguards.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate confirmed another historic Cabinet position. Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as Transportation Secretary, becoming the first openly gay Cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate.

Contributing: Bart Jansen

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