Alejandro Mayorkas: A Portrait of the Intended Nominee for DHS Secretary

The man tapped to become U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary, Cuba-born Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas, would wear many hats running one of the country’s largest bureaucracies. With some 240,000 employees, the DHS conglomeration created after 9/11 melds counterterrorism intelligence, emergency management, cybersecurity, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Secret Service. But the planned nomination also portends far-reaching impacts on all forms of legal and illegal immigration. Already, the 61-year-old Mayorkas has shown early interest in an oversight role over U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the agency he once headed, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But despite largely laudatory media reviews of a Mayorkas appointment, his public service legacy features serial ethical imbroglios, a pointed de-emphasis on immigration fraud and law enforcement, and strong-arm management tactics to spike acceptances of immigration and asylum applications in disregard of eligibility. While media organizations may have trod lightly over these trouble spots, a Senate confirmation process required for a DHS secretary nomination likely won’t, a public interest that argues for re-visitation and a more complete picture of how Mayorkas may manage this policy area. The son of Jewish-Cuban refugees who fled the 1959 communist revolution, Mayorkas served President Bill Clinton as an appointed U.S. attorney in California from 1998 through 2001, President Barack Obama as head of USCIS from 2009-2013, and as deputy secretary for DHS from 2013-2016, before retiring to a blue-chip law firm in Washington, D.C. He served perhaps most controversially as head of USCIS, the huge immigration-benefits management agency that oversees asylum approval processes, a fraud detection corps, residency and visa application processes, the E-Verify and SAVE immigration status-checking systems, and the citizenship naturalization process. In their initial coverage, Politico, the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Public Radio, and other media organizations quoted former friends, colleagues, and Democratic figures praising Mayorkas for his experience and centrist politics. But the exuberant coverage largely tokenized several ethically questionable moments in Mayorkas’s public service career dating to his California U.S. attorney days, leaving an incomplete portrait. For instance, in its article about the prospective Mayorkas nomination, the Washington Post noted that only “Republicans” are likely to bring up a 2015 DHS Inspector General report that found Mayorkas inappropriately helped companies associated with powerful Democratic Party figures reverse employment visa denials for wealthy foreign nationals. The Post did not elaborate on its brief description of the scandal.

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