Alejandro Mayorkas

Secretary of Homeland Security | Former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security | Former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The son of Cuban refugees, Alejandro Mayorkas is the first Latino and the first immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He has tried to strike a balance between a welcoming tone and by-the-books immigration enforcement; he is often known to say, “We are a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws.” 

Mayorkas’s term has been marked by significant challenges. Starting in early 2021, migration spiked at the southern border, leaving the DHS scrambling to respond. The agency also diverted significant resources to the exoduses caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the executive branch’s attempts to enact its own immigration policies, from new ICE enforcement rules deprioritizing nonviolent offenders to the end of the Migrant Protection Protocols, have been repeatedly delayed and blocked by lawsuits from Republican state attorneys general. 

Amid the turmoil, Mayorkas has come under fire from Republicans, who have increasingly called for his impeachment — although there is little precedent for using the process against cabinet officials. Even moderate Democrats like Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas have expressed concern over Mayorkas’s handling of the border. 

Mayorkas has responded to criticism by pointing a finger at the Trump administration. “The prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety,” he said during a 2021 briefing — an exaggeration, although the Trump administration did cut several programs (like the Central American Minors program), slash refugee admissions and refugee resettlement programs, and institute a hiring freeze that left vacancies in key DHS agencies, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Pandemic-related furloughs also caused many DHS employees to seek work elsewhere and disrupted administrative processes. 

Ultimately, Mayorkas emphasizes that he has a limited role to play, calling on the legislative branch to pass immigration reform. “[The system] is not built to manage the current levels and types of migratory flows,” he said during a hearing in April 2022. “Only Congress can fix this.”


Mayorkas’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

    Mayorkas has directed DHS agencies to continue the Trump administration’s COVID-19 policy of expelling most single adults and families under Title 42 of the U.S. Code, although unaccompanied children are admitted. In the past, he has framed border security as an issue of American identity, asking rhetorically, “Are we proudest when we manage [our borders] most effectively and hew with some orthodoxy to the standards articulated in the law, or are we most noble when we exercise our discretion with greater generosity and welcome these individuals?”

  • Border Wall

    Under Mayorkas, the DHS canceled contracts made under the Trump administration to construct a border wall.

  • Detention

    Mayorkas opposed the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, which he called “heartbreaking.” When asked in a March 2021 interview if he could commit to ending detention of families, Mayorkas answered, "A detention center is not where a family belongs." He did not clarify further. He has directed DHS agencies to move unaccompanied children out of Border Patrol custody and into Department of Health and Human Services facilities as quickly as possible, but has faced criticisms over overcrowded conditions in those facilities.

  • Immigration Courts

    No statement found.

  • Undocumented Population

    Mayorkas supported protections for undocumented parents of American citizens through the proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) policy, which stalled after the deadlocked United States v. Texas Supreme Court case in June 2016.

  • ICE

    Under Mayorkas’s leadership, ICE attempted to change its enforcement priorities, ceasing raids at workplaces, schools, churches, and other public places and instead focusing its interior enforcement on individuals deemed a threat to public safety. They were blocked by a lawsuit from Republican state attorneys general.

  • DACA

    As Director of USCIS during the Obama administration, Mayorkas was one of the architects of DACA. In a 2017 interview with PBS NewsHour, he expressed hope that Congress will pass legislation “along the lines of the DREAM Act” to more permanently protect the status of individuals covered under DACA, and to extend its protections to include all undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Currently, DACA only covers applicants who were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012.

  • Asylum & Refugees

    Himself the child of parents who fled the communist revolution in Cuba, Mayorkas is sympathetic to individuals seeking refuge in the United States, but advocates firm adherence to the legal process. In 2016 he stood by the Obama administration’s deportation of asylum-seekers who had not qualified for refugee status, saying, “We are a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws.”

  • Central America Policy

    No statement found.

  • Visas

    As director of USCIS, Mayorkas introduced improvements to the E-Verify system, including automatic passport photo verification for employers and the Self Check system for employees, which allows workers to check their own employment eligibility information and submit corrections to any errors. Mayorkas also sought to streamline and accelerate the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, a visa eligible to foreign investors in U.S. businesses. Under Mayorkas, USCIS developed a quicker review process for the EB-5, created specialized teams dedicated to applications, and offered a direct line of communication between applicants and their reviewers.

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