January 22, 2021

Last week Alejandro Mayorkas made history. As one of President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees, Alejandro Mayorkas became the first Latino and first immigrant ever nominated to become the Head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Confirmation and appointment are still required, however, the nomination is a historical moment in and of itself.  But who is Alejandro Mayorkas exactly? Aside from the historical significance what does this nomination mean for the Latino community?

 

Cuban Roots

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1959 Mayorkas immigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in late 1960 as refugees.  Like many they immigrated as a result of the Cuban Revolution. Although, Miami was a starting point, Mayorkas is basically an Angelino. Shortly after arriving in Miami, the Mayorkas family would move west to California. Mayorkas was raised in Los Angeles throughout his youth.

 

Education

The Golden State is also where Alejandro Mayorkas pursued higher education. Earning his Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981. In 1985 he would earn his law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Yes, Mayorkas is an attorney as well. Quite a credential for to have in the hip pocket when dealing with matters of national security.

 

Civil Rights & DACA

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. Eventually he would rise through the ranks and be appointed by then President Clinton to serve as the US Attorney for the Central District of California.

As the United States Attorney, Mayorkas created the Civil Rights Section to prosecute hate crimes and other acts of intolerance and discrimination. In 2009, he 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. 

 

What Does This All Mean for the Latino Community?

Mayorkas nomination is clearly a moment of cultural pride for the Latino community.  However, it will also have direct impact on immigration policy and practices.  

Expectations are that Mayorkas will work to fulfill many of the promises made by Biden during the campaign. These include reinstating DACA and terminating the Migrant Protection Protocols program. More commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. A program that has forced thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in the United States. 

While Mayorkas career achievements and the Biden mandate are signals of change. The consensus by Beltway insiders is that no tea leaves need be read here – change is coming. Perhaps, the strongest indication comes from Mayorkas himself.

Upon receiving the nomination, 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.”

 

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