Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's Pick For DHS Head, Would Be 1st Latino In Post

Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before a House committee in 2015.
Jacquelyn Martin
Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before a House committee in 2015.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden announced Monday his intent to nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American, to head the government agency that oversees immigration issues, the Department of Homeland Security.

Mayorkas, who would be the first Latino and first immigrant to hold that job, previously was the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a DHS agency, during the Obama administration, and then deputy secretary of DHS.

Following the announcement, Mayorkas tweeted, "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."

Mayorkas, who will turn 61 on Tuesday, was born in Havana. His family fled as political refugees to Miami and eventually settled in Los Angeles. Mayorkas is an attorney at WilmerHale. His bio for the firm says that while in the Obama administration, Mayorkas "developed and implemented within sixty days the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), through which more than 700,000 youth have benefited."

The DACA program allows immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children to remain in the U.S., and they are given permission to work or go to school. The Trump administration has tried to undo the program, but a federal judge ruled this monththat acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was improperly serving in his role, and his order to limit the program was illegal.

DACA is one of many immigration issues Mayorkas will be faced with if the Senate confirms him.

In announcing his choice, Biden said that Mayorkas "will play a critical role in fixing our broken immigration system and understands that living up to our values and protecting our nation's security aren't mutually exclusive — and under his leadership, they'll go hand-in-hand."

Immigration advocates were upbeat over the news of Maylorkas' planned nomination. Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: "It sends a signal that the Biden administration is serious about reforming all the wrongs that have happened to our immigration system in the past four years, because by selecting someone who has deep immigration expertise as secretary, it signals that this will be a big priority."

Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said one of Mayorkas' biggest challenges will be at the U.S. border with Mexico, which the Trump administration has virtually sealed.

"The southern border, I think, is the most immediate and the most delicate and complicated challenge that a new administration will face, because there it's certainly clear that a Biden administration is committed to a more fair process at the southern border to not violating U.S. law, violating international law in the way that the Trump administration has done. But at the same time," Meissner said, "it will not want to send out the signal that for some reason, people should just expect to be able to come to the United States."

In a statement, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said that "following years of chaos and mismanagement, I appreciate that President-elect Biden chose to nominate a qualified candidate with extensive private and public sector security experience, including several senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security. I look forward to working with him as part of the confirmation process and finding commonsense solutions to the serious threats facing our nation."

Mayorkas also was a U.S attorney in California.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.