Return to Men of 2020

Words By ‘LLERO Editors

In November of 2020 then President Elect Joe Biden announced his cabinet nominees – Alejandro Mayorkas was among them and made history in the process. You see, with his confirmation Mayorkas became the first Latino and first immigrant ever nominated to become the Head of the Department of Homeland Security.  An achievement that is the culmination of a life spent in public service to not just the Latino community, but the United States at large.

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1959 Mayorkas immigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in late 1960 as refugees.  Like many the Mayorkas family immigrated as a result of the Cuban Revolution. Although, Miami was a starting point, shortly after their arrival, the Mayorkas headed west to California.

Alejandro was raised in Los Angeles throughout his youth. The Golden State is also where he pursued higher education. Earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981. In 1985 it would be a law degree from Loyola Law School. Quite a credential for to have in the hip pocket when dealing with matters of national security.

Speaking of credentials, it was post law school where Mayorkas would really cut his teeth as an attorney and be instrumental in some of the country’s most progressive social justice and immigration reform. After a few years in private practice, Mayorkas went on to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney. Primarily, prosecuting telemarketing fraud and money laundering cases. He rose through the ranks and was appointed by then President Clinton to serve as the US Attorney for the Central District of California.

In 2009, Mayorkas was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Looking back, this was perhaps a seminal moment for both Mayorkas and immigrant communities. Why? Because in this role Mayorkas was integral to implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. More commonly known as DACA, the program allowed immigrants who came to the U.S. unlawfully as children to live and work in the country without fear of deportation. 

On February 2, 2021, Mayorkas was confirmed by the Senate on a 56–43 vote. While the confirmation had bipartisan support, it also had substantial Republican opposition. Fear that Mayorkas would weaken the country’s position on immigration.  For, Mayorkas the appointment marks a significant shift from the prior administrations hardline policies on immigration. However, it also begs the question. Who better to oversee such a system than a person who is a byproduct and beneficiary of it?

It is expected Mayorkas will work to fulfill many of the promises made by Biden during the campaign, including reinstating DACA and terminating the Migrant Protection Protocols program. The latter of which he has already made in-roads on. More commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, this program forced thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in the United States and is in the process of being reformed under Mayorkas watch. 

However, despite the pedigree, credentials and accomplishments, perhaps the most insightful look into the man and his world view came from a simple tweet upon learning of his nomination. “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.”