Alejandro Mayorkas

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Alejandro Mayorkas
Alejandro Mayorkas, United States Secretary of Homeland Security.jpg
7th United States Secretary of Homeland Security
Assumed office
February 2, 2021
PresidentJoe Biden
Preceded byKirstjen Nielsen
6th United States Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security
In office
December 23, 2013 – October 28, 2016
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJane Holl Lute
Succeeded byElaine Duke
Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
In office
August 12, 2009 – December 23, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJonathan Scharfen (acting)
Succeeded byLori Scialabba (acting)
United States Attorney for the Central District of California
In office
December 21, 1998 – April 20, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded byNora Margaret Manella[1]
Succeeded byDebra Wong Yang[2]
Personal details
Born
Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas

(1959-11-24) November 24, 1959 (age 61)
Havana, Cuba
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA)
Loyola Marymount University (JD)

Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas (born November 24, 1959) is an American lawyer and government official serving as the seventh United States secretary of homeland security. During the Obama administration, he served in the Department of Homeland Security, first as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2009–2013) and then as Deputy Secretary (2013–2016).

Born in Havana, Cuba, his family fled during the Cuban Revolution to Florida and later settled in California. After law school, Mayorkas worked as an Assistant United States Attorney and was appointed the United States attorney for the Central District of California in Los Angeles during the administration of President Bill Clinton.

In 2016, Mayorkas became a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, a Washington, D.C., law firm. President Joe Biden nominated Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security in his Cabinet. On February 2, 2021, Mayorkas was confirmed by the Senate on a 56–43 vote, noted as being one of Joe Biden's cabinet nominees with the most significant pushback from Senate Republicans thus far.[3] He is the first immigrant, first Latino, and first Senate confirmed head of the department after it being headed by acting administrators for almost two years.[4]

Early life and education[edit source | edit]

Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas,[5] nicknamed Ali,[6][7] was born in Havana, Cuba, on November 24, 1959.[8] His parents arrived with him and his sister to the United States in 1960 as refugees, following the Cuban Revolution. He lived in Miami, Florida, before his family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he was raised for the remainder of his youth.[9] Mayorkas grew up in Beverly Hills and attended Beverly Hills High School.[10]

His father was a Cuban Jew of Sephardic background who owned and operated a steel wool factory in Havana.[9] His mother was a Romanian Jew whose family escaped the Holocaust and fled to Cuba in the 1940s.[11][12][13] The Cuban Revolution marked the second time his mother would be forced to flee a country she considered home.[11]

Mayorkas earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1981. He received his Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School in 1985.[14]

Career[edit source | edit]

Assistant United States Attorney[edit source | edit]

After three years as a litigation associate in private practice, Mayorkas became an Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California in 1989.[15] He prosecuted a wide array of federal crimes, developing a specialization in the prosecution of white-collar crime. His prosecutions included the successful prosecution of Operation PolarCap, then the largest money laundering case in the nation; the conviction at trial of Heidi Fleiss on charges of federal conspiracy, tax fraud, and money laundering charges; the successful prosecutions of two largest telemarketing fraud operations that preyed on the elderly; and the successful prosecution of a health care fraud and insurance fraud conspiracy.[14]

Mayorkas served as the coordinator of the Southern California Telemarketing Fraud Task Force, overseeing the coordination of federal, state, and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies to most aggressively combat telemarketing fraud throughout the Central District of California.[14]

From 1996 to 1998, Mayorkas served as Chief of the Office's General Crimes Section, overseeing the training and trial work of all new Assistant United States Attorneys in the Criminal Division. He received numerous awards from federal law enforcement agencies, including from FBI Director Louis Freeh for the successful prosecution of Operation PolarCap.[14]

United States Attorney[edit source | edit]

In 1998, Mayorkas was recommended by Senator Dianne Feinstein and appointed by President Bill Clinton as the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, becoming the country's youngest United States Attorney.[16][14] He was appointed on December 21, 1998.[17]

Mayorkas oversaw the prosecution of high-profile criminal cases, including the prosecution of the Mexican Mafia in death penalty proceedings, the prosecution of Buford O. Furrow, Jr. for the murder of a federal postal worker and the hate-motivated shooting of children in a community center, the prosecution of Litton Industries for the payment of bribes abroad, and the takedown of the violent 18th Street gang using RICO statutes.[14]

In late 2000, Mayorkas was one of many California officials who participated in efforts to obtain executive clemency for narcotics trafficker Carlos Vignali, Jr., the son of a wealthy Los Angeles businessman. On his last day in office in January 2001, Clinton commuted Vignali's 15-year prison sentence, a controversial decision.[18][19]

Private law practice[edit source | edit]

In September 2001, Mayorkas joined O'Melveny & Myers as a litigation partner.[20] In 2008, The National Law Journal named Mayorkas one of the "50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America".[21]

Upon the election of Barack Obama in November 2008, Mayorkas was selected by the president-elect for a role in the presidential transition leading up to the inauguration. He led the transition team responsible for the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division.[22]

Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services[edit source | edit]

In 2009, Mayorkas was appointed by President Obama as the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).[8] On May 20, 2009, the nomination was received by the Senate; on August 7, 2009, the nomination was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote.[23] As USCIS director, Mayorkas championed United States citizenship, management efficiencies and fiscal responsibility, and safeguarding the integrity of the immigration system.[15] He implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process in 60 days.[24] He led U.S. government efforts to rescue orphaned children following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti and led the advancement of a crime victims unit that, for the first time, resulted in the ability of the agency to administer the statutory maximum number of visas to victims of crime.[15]

For his work as director of USCIS, Mayorkas received awards from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.[25]

In 2015, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general (DHS IG) report criticized Mayorkas' oversight of the EB-5 investor visa program, which offered lawful permanent resident status (green cards) to foreign investors who invested $500,000 into businesses that created jobs in the U.S.[26] The program's popularity greatly increased under Mayorkas's tenure.[26] The DHS IG report, which was the culmination of an investigation beginning in 2013,[27] focused on allegations that politically connected businesses were given special treatment under the program, focusing specifically on the Sahara casino and hotel in Las Vegas, backed by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and an electric car company led by Terry McAuliffe and involving Anthony Rodham.[26] The report concluded that "The juxtaposition of Mr. Mayorkas' communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures, coupled with favorable action that deviated from the regulatory scheme designed to ensure fairness and evenhandedness in adjudicating benefits, created an appearance of favoritism and special access."[26] The "fast-tracking" of approvals for individuals involved in the casino program was controversial because it was made over the objections of USCIS analysts "who were suspicious about the source of the funds".[28]

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security[edit source | edit]

Nominated by President Obama in June 2013, Mayorkas was confirmed as the Deputy Secretary on December 20, 2014, following a party-line Senate vote.[29][5]

The DHS inspector general's investigation into Mayorkas's intervention as USCIS director to expedite reviews for applicants for foreign investor visas in three cases caused controversy and delayed his confirmation proceedings.[30][31] The inspector general's report found that Mayorkas's acts did not violate the law, but did create an appearance of favoritism.[30] In House Homeland Security Committee testimony in May 2015, Mayorkas expressed regret that his intervention created an impression of favoritism, but said his involvement was motivated by a desire to ensure that the applications were handled in accordance with the law: "I did not let errors go unchecked, but instead helped ensure that those cases were decided correctly, nothing more and nothing less."[31]

As deputy secretary, Mayorkas's led DHS's response to the 2013–14 Ebola virus epidemic and 2015–16 Zika virus epidemic.[30][16] His work also focused on cybersecurity.[31] He led the DHS's negotiations with Israel and China on cybersecurity.[32] A landmark agreement reached in 2015 with the Chinese government reduced, for a brief period, Chinese cyberattacks against American companies[33] aimed at the theft of intellectual property.[34] After the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, Mayorkas led the Obama administration's delegation to Cuba,[32] and negotiated with the Cuban government on port and cargo security and U.S.-Cuba travel.[12]

Mayorkas was also involved in the Department's counterterrorism and anti-cybercrime efforts, as well as its public-private partnerships,[35] and efforts to fight antisemitism.[12] Under Mayorkas's tenure, DHS greatly expanded its Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Virginia, to aid the department's efforts to combat various cybercrimes, ranging from child exploitation to computer hacking and intellectual property theft.[36] Mayorkas was involved in efforts to address DHS's presence on GAO's "high risk list" for management challenges;[35] Mayorkas, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, acknowledged low morale among DHS employees (a longstanding problem that pre-dated the Obama administration) and took steps aimed at boosting morale.[37][38]

Return to private practice, 2017–2020[edit source | edit]

In October 2016, Mayorkas joined the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in the firm's Washington office.[39]

Secretary of Homeland Security[edit source | edit]

Nomination and confirmation hearings[edit source | edit]

On November 23, 2020, President-elect Joe Biden announced his plan to nominate Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security.[40][41] Mayorkas has the support the Fraternal Order of Police[42] and endorsements from former secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff (who served under George W. Bush) and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson (who served under Barack Obama), who said Biden "could not have found a more qualified person".[43]

On January 19, 2021, Senator Josh Hawley moved to block the swift confirmation of Mayorkas as the Secretary of Homeland Security, stating that Mayorkas "has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border given [then-President-elect] Biden's promise to roll back major enforcement and security measures".[44] Hawley was criticized by the Biden transition team.[44].

On February 2, 2021, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to vote against Mayorkas' confirmation, saying that Mayorkas is an "ethically compromised partisan lawyer". [45] McConnell then said that Mayorkas has promoted "a culture of fear and disrespect". McConnell further stated that when working with Obama administration, Mayorkas turned the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services into "an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty", referencing a report where in 2015, Mayorkas helped several foreign investors connected to Democrats get Green Cards. [46]

Ultimately, Mayorkas was confirmed on a 56-43 vote. [47] Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan voted with the Democrats to confirm Mayorkas. [48]

Tenure[edit source | edit]

Mayorkas was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on February 2, 2021, after his confirmation that day.[49]

Personal life[edit source | edit]

Mayorkas and his wife Tanya have two daughters, Giselle and Amelia.[50] He is Jewish.[12] He is a runner and plays tennis and squash.[30]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. "PN19 - Nomination of Alejandro N. Mayorkas for Department of Justice, 106th Congress (1999-2000)". www.congress.gov. August 2, 1999. Archived from the original on May 4, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  2. "PN1594 - Nomination of Debra W. Yang for Department of Justice, 107th Congress (2001-2002)". www.congress.gov. April 22, 2002. Archived from the original on May 4, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  3. Beitsch, Rebecca (February 2, 2021). "Senate confirms Biden's DHS pick after GOP delay". The Hill. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  4. Rodriguez, Sabrina (February 2, 2021). "Mayorkas confirmed as secretary of Homeland Security". Politico. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas — Department of Homeland Security, 113th Congress (2013-2014)". United States Congress. Archived from the original on November 23, 2020.
  6. Sands, Geneva; Alvarez, Priscilla (November 24, 2020). "Mayorkas could bring stability to DHS after years of interim leadership". CNN. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020.
  7. "HIAS Congratulates Board Member Alejandro Mayorkas on DHS Nomination". HIAS. November 23, 2020. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hesson, Ted (November 24, 2020). "Biden picks Cuban-American lawyer Mayorkas as U.S. homeland security chief". Reuters. Archived from the original on November 23, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Marshall, Serena (October 27, 2015). "55 Years Later, US Official Prepares for Emotional Return to Cuba". ABC News. Archived from the original on January 10, 2020. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  10. Johnson 2000, pp. 70, 76.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hesson, Ted (July 25, 2013). "Meet the Cuban Immigrant Who Could Run Homeland Security". ABC News. Archived from the original on October 3, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Zonshine, Idan (November 12, 2020). "Alejandro Mayorkas, the Cuban-Jewish attorney who may head Biden's DHS". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on November 22, 2020.
  13. Miroff, Nick; Sacchetti, Maria (November 23, 2020). "Biden picks Alejandro Mayorkas, a son of Jewish Cuban refugees, to lead the Department of Homeland Security". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 24, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Rosenzweig, David (October 9, 1998). "Feinstein Recommends Mayorkas for U.S. Attorney in L.A." Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 421322576. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2017.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Watanabe, Teresa (May 24, 2010). "Head of U.S. legal immigration system wins high marks from advocates for immigrants". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 312850120. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Fox, Ben (November 23, 2020). "Ex-Homeland Security official Mayorkas returns under Biden". AP News. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020.
  17. "Former United States Attorneys". United States Department of Justice. November 4, 2015. Archived from the original on May 4, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  18. Purdum, Todd S. (February 22, 2001). "A Convict in the Storm's Eye Had Plenty of Other Help". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  19. Brown, Carrie Budoff (October 14, 2008). "Clinton scandal figure on Justice team". Politico. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  20. Rosenzweig, David (July 26, 2001). "Mayorkas to Join L.A. Law Firm". Los Angeles Times. p. B6. ISSN 0458-3035. ProQuest 421775031. Archived from the original on December 3, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  21. "The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on October 28, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  22. Barber, C. Ryan (November 23, 2020). "Wilmer Partner Alejandro Mayorkas Picked for Homeland Security Secretary". National Law Journal. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020.
  23. "PN488 — Alejandro N. Mayorkas — Department of Homeland Security". Archived from the original on October 26, 2020.
  24. Preston, Julia (September 12, 2012). "Quick Start to Program Offering Immigrants a Reprieve". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 19, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  25. "Letter from Joshua Hoyt, Executive Director". Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. April 15, 2011. Archived from the original on May 5, 2017. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Mosk, Matthew; Ross, Brian (March 24, 2015). "Top Homeland Official Alejandro Mayorkas Accused of Political Favoritism". ABC News. Archived from the original on August 18, 2018. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  27. Caldwell, Alicia (July 23, 2013). "Homeland Security official probed". Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  28. Loten, Angus (August 8, 2013). "Some USCIS Employees Say Alejandro Mayorkas Gave Special Treatment to Casino Project Backed by Foreigners". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on August 18, 2018. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  29. "Roll Call Vote: Question: On the Nomination (Confirmation Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas, to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security". Archived from the original on November 24, 2020.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 Kanno-Youngs, Zolan (November 23, 2020). "Biden Nominates Cuban-Born Lawyer to Lead Homeland Security Dept". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Preston, Julia (April 30, 2015). "Homeland Security Official Defends Handling of Visa Program". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Gamboa, Suzanne (November 23, 2020). "First Latino tapped to head DHS signals shift from Trump's hard-line immigration policies". NBC News. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020.
  33. Marks, Joseph (November 24, 2020). "The Cybersecurity 202: Biden's DHS pick adds cybersecurity chops to the incoming administration". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020.
  34. Lyngaas, Sean (November 23, 2020). "Biden's DHS pick was a 'quick study' of cybersecurity issues as the department's deputy". CyberScoop. Archived from the original on November 24, 2020.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Keegan, Michael J. (2015). "Leading a Unity of Effort: A Conversation with Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security" (PDF). The Business of Government. IBM Center for The Business of Government: 26–31. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 3, 2020. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  36. Markon, Jerry (July 23, 2015). "Homeland Security cybercrime center expands amid growing concern over computer hacking". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020.
  37. Markon, Jerry (October 10, 2020). "DHS morale sinks further despite new leadership at the top, survey shows". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 17, 2020.
  38. Markon, Jerry; Nakashima, Ellen; Crites, Alice (November 21, 2014). "Top-level turnover makes it harder for DHS to stay on top of evolving threats". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020.
  39. "Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Joins WilmerHale" (Press release). Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. October 5, 2016. Archived from the original on July 13, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  40. Thomas, Ken; Restuccia, Andrew (November 23, 2020). "Biden Reveals Some Cabinet Picks". The Wall Street Journal. ProQuest 2463420498. Archived from the original on November 23, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  41. Crowley, Michael (November 23, 2020). "Biden Will Nominate First Woman to Lead Intelligence, First Latino to Run Homeland Security". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 23, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  42. Yoes, Patrick (January 7, 2021). "Law Enforcement Cheers Biden's Homeland Chief". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  43. Chertoff, Michael; Johnson, Jeh; Napolitano, Janet; Ridge, Tom (January 12, 2021). "Opinion: 4 former homeland security secretaries: We cannot afford one more day without a confirmed DHS leader". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Desiderio, Andrew. "Josh Hawley will delay swift confirmation of Biden's DHS pick". Politico. Politico. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  45. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/mcconnell-urges-caucus-oppose-mayorkas-194233708.html
  46. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/mcconnell-urges-caucus-oppose-mayorkas-194233708.html
  47. https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=117&session=1&vote=00012
  48. https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=117&session=1&vote=00012
  49. "Harris swears in Mayorkas as homeland security secretary after Senate confirmation vote". The Washington Post. February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  50. "Statement of Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas to the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate" (PDF). June 24, 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 28, 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020.

Sources[edit source | edit]

External links[edit source | edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Nora Margaret Manella
United States Attorney for the Central District of California
1998–2001
Succeeded by
Debra Wong Yang
Political offices
Preceded by
Jonathan Scharfen
Acting
Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
2009–2013
Succeeded by
Lori Scialabba
Acting
Preceded by
Rafael Borras
Acting
United States Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security
2013–2016
Succeeded by
Russell Deyo
Acting
Preceded by
Kirstjen Nielsen
United States Secretary of Homeland Security
2021–present
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
vacant
as Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Homeland Security
Succeeded by
Ron Klain
as White House Chief of Staff
U.S. presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
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