Alejandro Mayorkas keeps coming up as a natural pick to lead the Homeland Security Department should Joe Biden win the presidency next week.
Mayorkas, an Obama administration alumnus who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a baby, developed and shepherded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA).
Four former senior DHS officials from the Obama administration each mentioned in interviews with Bloomberg Government that Mayorkas was one of several people being recommended to the Biden-Harris transition team for the top DHS slot. The team would pick a Latino for the top DHS slot or an immigration agency leadership position, the same officials said.
Mayorkas was always the first name to come up and all four mentioned him. Other names raised were Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and former Obama homeland officials Suzanne Spaulding, Juliette Kayyem, and Lisa Monaco.
“DHS is the third largest department of the federal government, and probably the most complicated department of the federal government. So I think whomever the president-elect chooses, it should be someone who has a significant record in leading a large organization,” former Obama DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an interview.
“They should have subject matter experience with at least some of the functions of DHS,” she added.
Napolitano did not comment on specific people she would recommend or expect to see in the position. She has spoken with the Biden transition team, she said, but more about process than personalities.
Any names circulating for the DHS slot are speculative. No one is officially in the running yet, as the Biden-Harris transition team is not making any personnel decisions before the election, a spokesperson for the transition said by email.
Focus on Immigration
DHS officials under President Donald Trump have spent the better part of his administration trying to undo DACA, which protects people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often called Dreamers, from being deported and allows them to work legally. The Trump administration stopped accepting new DACA claims this summer following a setback at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump said he would “take care” of Dreamers and continue negotiating immigration laws when asked about his position on DACA at an October town hall.
Biden committed to reinstating DACA in the first 100 days of his presidency, according to his campaign website.
If Biden becomes president, the next leader of DHS would be tasked with cleaning up the Trump administration’s immigration policies and would likely push Congress to pass laws that would make DACA permanent, several former Obama DHS officials said.
Mayorkas helmed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Napolitano and later became the deputy DHS Secretary under Jeh Johnson, winning Senate confirmation to both posts. He is currently a partner and Covid-19 Coronavirus Task Force leader at law firm WilmerHale.
“The ideal solution would, in fact, be the passage of legislation along the lines of the DREAM Act that has been pending over and over again throughout the years that would give them a more permanent solution to their presence here in the United States,” Mayorkas said in a 2017 PBS interview. At the time, he called for expanding the policy to apply to people regardless of their current age, making it solely dependent on their age when they arrived in the U.S.
Mayorkas recently made the case to his fellow Cuban Americans for a Biden-Harris administration, but in the process laid out his own leadership experience on sensitive issues facing DHS in an opinion piece on Univision News. Biden, he argued, would do more to protect Cuban Americans and their families in Cuba by once again allowing U.S. residents to send remittances to the island. Biden would make good on America’s commitment to asylum protections by restoring the Temporary Protected Status program for Cubans and expanding it to Venezuelans, he wrote.
“I have helped oversee our nation’s asylum system and the administration of TPS. I have negotiated security agreements with foreign countries and worked to protect the human rights of individuals suffering persecution in countries in our hemisphere and beyond,” Mayorkas wrote.
“I know how our laws are meant to be applied to help those in need,” he added.
Mayorkas did not respond to several requests for an interview.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, hopes the next leader of DHS will work not just within the department, but also with state and local leaders and Congress to prevent silos of information and decision-making. That partnership is missing under the Trump administration, Thompson said.
A new administration should pick the agency’s top leaders holistically as a group that can work together, not in isolation, several former officials said.
The pick for the secretary position is almost as important as the administration’s choices to lead USCIS, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, several former Obama administration officials said.
There’s much work to do on repairing DHS’s reputation inside the agency and out, Thompson said.
“They’re gonna need to be able to go in and kind of restore the morale and the credibility of the department,” Napolitano said about the DHS leader under a possible Biden administration.
To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org