Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced his departure Wednesday, ending a tenure that spanned most of the Obama administration, first as the chief of the citizenship agency and then as the deputy secretary.
It’s the first high-profile departure in what’s likely to be a series of people leaving ahead of the end of President Obama’s second term. Mr. Mayorkas will leave Oct. 28, and will join the Washington office of WilmerHale, a prominent law firm.
As head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services he oversaw implementation of Mr. Obama’s 2012 deportation amnesty for so-called Dreamers and tried to prepare his agency for a massive legalization program — though that never materialized, thanks to gridlock in Congress.
At main Homeland Security headquarters he took the lead on cybersecurity and was a major player in trying to help manage the unwieldy bureaucracy, helping Secretary Jeh Johnson’s push to improve employee morale.
Mr. Johnson called Mr. Mayorkas “our happy warrior.”
“His legacy as deputy secretary will be the number of things we did to improve how this department functions, and the significant increase in employee satisfaction we saw this year as a result,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement announcing the departure.
White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco said Mr. Mayorkas “worked tirelessly to secure our nation against the threats we face.”
Mr. Mayorkas’s appointment to the deputy’s job was marred by an internal department investigation onto an investor visa program he took close interest in during his time as head of the immigration branch.
Republicans would likely have blocked his appointment but for the decision by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to trigger the “nuclear option” and curtail filibusters of presidential nominees.
The inspector general later reported that Mr. Mayorkas appeared to give special treatment to politically connected Democrats, including to Mr. Reid and to Tony Rodham, brother of Hillary Clinton, the then-secretary of state.
Mr. Mayorkas said at the time he stepped in because the department wasn’t following procedures, and said he disagreed with the report’s conclusions.
But the inspector general said his employees concluded Mr. Mayorkas was doing favors for allies.
After the report, Mr. Johnson said he discussed ethics with Mr. Mayorkas and was “confident” his deputy understood his obligations.