Who is Alejandro Mayorkas - Secretary of Homeland Security: Biography, Career, Profile, Life and Family
Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: The Forward

Who is Alejandro Mayorkas?

Born on November 24, 1959, in Havana, Cuba. Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas is a Cuban-Jewish lawyer who served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from December 23, 2013 to October 31, 2016. On November 23, 2020, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he has nominated Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security.

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge,'' Mayorkas wrote on Twitter in response to his appointment. “Now, I have been nominated to by 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.''

He is a partner at the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale (WilmerHale), which joined the firm on November 1, 2016. Mayorkas practices in civil and criminal justice, internal investigations, cybersecurity, crisis management and strategic management. Consulting. In 2008, the National Law Journal named Mayorkas one of the “50 most influential minority lawyers in America.” In 2019, Latino Leaders Magazine named him one of the 101 most influential leaders of the country’s Latino community, according to Arenagadgets.

Alejandro Mayorkas Career

Early in his career as a litigator, from 1989 to 1998, Mr. Mayorkas served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California, specializing in the prosecution of white- collar crime. He tried numerous criminal and civil cases to a jury, including Operation Polarcap, which was then the largest money laundering case in the nation, and the federal tax evasion and money laundering case against famed Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss. From 1996 to 1998, Mr. Mayorkas served as Chief of the General Crimes Section, where he trained all incoming Assistant US Attorneys in the investigation and trial of criminal cases.

In 1998, Mr. Mayorkas became the first-ever Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California who was promoted from within the office to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as the United States Attorney. He was the youngest US Attorney in the nation at the time, overseeing prosecutions of national significance, including the investigation and prosecution of financial fraud, violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, public corruption, cybercrime, environmental crime, international money laundering, securities fraud, and immigration fraud.

After leaving the US Attorney’s Office, Mr. Mayorkas litigated cases, conducted internal investigations, and advised a wide range of Fortune 100 companies and their boards in their most sensitive and high-stakes cases, including those that involved parallel proceedings and cut across all branches of government.

In 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama selected Mr. Mayorkas to lead the US Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Transition Team. President Obama then nominated, and the United States Senate confirmed, Mr. Mayorkas in August 2009 to serve as the Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that administers the largest immigration system in the world. There, Mr. Mayorkas led a workforce of 18,000 people, realigned the agency’s organizational structure to more effectively accomplish its mission, and developed and implemented a series of transformative initiatives. He created the Office of Public Engagement to more effectively interact with, and be responsive to the needs of, the public that the agency serves. He created the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate to better meet the agency’s national security responsibilities. He developed and implemented within sixty days the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), through which more than 700,000 youth have benefited. And, he created and launched a series of other innovative and impactful initiatives and programs such as the Citizenship Awareness Initiative, the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, and the campaign against notario fraud. For his work on behalf of immigrants, Mr. Mayorkas received, among other recognition, awards from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

In 2013 President Obama appointed and the US Senate confirmed Mr. Mayorkas to serve as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, where he managed some of the most complex and critical responsibilities of government, including preventing and responding to terrorist attacks on US soil, enhancing both the government’s and the private sector’s cybersecurity, combating the outbreak of diseases such as Ebola and Zika, enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, facilitating lawful trade and travel, and helping stricken communities recover from disasters. Mr. Mayorkas led a workforce of 240,000 people in the third-largest department of the federal government. As Deputy Secretary, Mr. Mayorkas was the Obama Administration’s highest ranking Cuban American. In 2016, Mr. Mayorkas negotiated with the government of Cuba the first homeland security Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries.

For his service as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Mr. Mayorkas received the Department’s Distinguished Service Award, its highest civilian honor; the US Coast Guard’s Distinguished Service Award; a special commendation from the National Security Agency for his achievements in national security and, specifically, cybersecurity; and, numerous additional awards and commendations.

Mr. Mayorkas joined WilmerHale in November 2016 and resumed his representation of clients in their most significant and high-stakes litigation, internal investigations, and parallel proceedings. With his diverse experience in both the public and private sectors, Mr. Mayorkas helps companies address crises that span from the courtroom to the halls of Congress and in the public eye, as WilmerHale cited.

Can Mayorkas' nomination clear the Senate?

Who is Alejandro Mayorkas - Secretary of Homeland Security: Biography, Career, Profile, Life and Family
Photo: Fox 29

The confirmation process is not unfamiliar to Mayorkas. He has been confirmed three times by the Senate, though no Republican voted for him in 2013 for his most recent role at the department.

He could face similar pushback from the GOP again. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas already expressed his opposition to Mayorkas, calling him "disqualified."

One of the primary concerns raised about Mayorkas stems from the watchdog investigation into his tenure as director of USCIS, the federal government office responsible for legal immigration, though he could also face questions about a commutation under former President Bill Clinton.

During his 2009 confirmation hearing for USCIS director, Mayorkas was questioned about a conversation he had as a US attorney with the Clinton White House regarding the commutation of Carlos Vignali. Vignali, who had his sentence commuted by Clinton in 2001, served six years of a 15-year prison term for conspiring to sell more than 800 pounds of cocaine.

Carlos' father, Horacio Vignali -- a politically connected, California businessman at the time -- asked Mayorkas to intervene on behalf of his son's clemency, according to a 2002 congressional report. The commutation was part of a series of controversial end-of-term clemencies issued by Clinton.

Mayorkas told the Senate committee that it was a "mistake" to engage in the conversation with the White House, saying that his comments "were construed, and not unfairly so, to mean that my opinion leaned in favor of commutation." He was confirmed as USCIS director thereafter and served four years.

The Homeland Security inspector general report examining his time as USCIS director was released in 2015, after his confirmation to serve as deputy secretary, though he addressed the investigation's results during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing after its release.

Employees alleged that Mayorkas exerted influence to give individuals preference as part of a visa program, which gives residency preference to immigrants who agree to invest in the US economy and create jobs, according to the report, which stemmed from a whistleblower complaint.

The government watchdog found "a number of instances" where Mayorkas "declined to become involved in certain matters, stating that he did not think it would be appropriate for the Director to do so." But in three instances, the report said, Mayorkas communicated "outside of the normal adjudicatory process" and intervened in the decision-making process "in ways that benefited the stakeholders."

Among those who appeared to get special treatment, according to the report: investors funding a Las Vegas hotel and casino, following a request from then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; an investor proposal to fund electric car manufacturing, with ties to Terry McAuliffe; and Anthony Rodham, brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Another accusation involved Time Warner Inc., according to the report. At the time, CNN's parent company Turner Broadcasting System was a unit of Time Warner.

Although the inspector general could not determine the motivation behind Mayorkas' actions, it said they caused "significant resentment" at the agency. Mayorkas said at the time the allegations that he provided preferential treatment and created an appearance of impropriety were "entirely unfounded."

In the wake of Biden naming Mayorkas, groups advocating for reduced immigration have cited the investigation, though some are withholding judgment until the nomination comes before the Senate.

"Right now, we have serious concerns because of the way he ran USCIS and because of some of the other things he's been involved in," said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director at NumbersUSA. "If he becomes the official nominee, officially presented before the Senate, and goes through the hearing process, we'll see how he views immigration."

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who is in line to be the next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee if the GOP retains the Senate after two upcoming runoffs in Georgia, said he's committing to a "fair process."

"As a former cabinet official I believe that every nominee deserves a fair process and I am committed to ensuring that happens at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee," he said in a statement to CNN.

Democrats on the committee have praised Mayorkas, citing his private and public sector experience, as well as his having held senior level positions within DHS.

"Our nation faces persistent threats, both longstanding and new, including foreign and domestic terrorism, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and now a pandemic," said Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security committee.

"The Department of Homeland Security plays a critical role in addressing these threats and strengthening our national security, and it needs highly qualified, experienced and dedicated leaders, like Mr. Mayorkas -- especially following years of chaos and mismanagement," Peters added, as CNNpoliticts reported,

The Secretary of Homeland Security leads the third largest Department of the U.S. government, with a workforce of 229,000 employees and 22 components including TSA, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, FEMA, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and the Science and Technology Directorate.

Under the Secretary's leadership, DHS is responsible for counterterrorism, cybersecurity, aviation security, border security, port security, maritime security, administration and enforcement of our immigration laws, protection of our national leaders, protection of critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, detection of and protection against chemical, biological and nuclear threats to the homeland, and response to disasters. according to DHS.

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