- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2020

Presumed President-elect Joseph R. Biden said Monday he wants Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Homeland Security Department, tapping an Obama-era mainstay who helped create the DACA program that protected “Dreamers,” but was also part of the team that expanded family detention.

Mr. Mayorkas, born in Cuba, would be the first Hispanic person and first immigrant to head the department, created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He brings extensive experience at DHS, having served as chief at the legal-immigration agency and then deputy secretary for the entire department.

But his more than seven years in office also saw their share of controversy, with an inspector general finding he delivered favors in granting immigration visas at the request of high-powered Democrats. That’s likely to draw attention from Republicans.

He also was deputy secretary, under Secretary Jeh Johnson, when the department grappled with the first surge of migrant children and families in 2014 and 2015. The department dramatically expanded family detention — from 100 beds to 3,000 — and built the chain-link fence pens, now derided as “cages,” used to hold immigrants who were in the country illegally at the border.

Mr. Mayorkas was part of Mr. Biden’s first list of nominations, which also included Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the U.N. and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence.

Mr. Biden said he expects Mr. Mayorkas to be able to straddle both the humanitarian and security sides of the job at Homeland Security.

“He will play a critical role in fixing our broken immigration system and understands that living up to our values and protecting our nation’s security aren’t mutually exclusive — and under his leadership, they’ll go hand-in-hand,” Mr. Biden said.

At least so far, he doesn’t have to worry about any pushback from his left flank.

Despite aiming fierce criticism at the Obama administration for its actions in 2014 and 2015, immigration activists said they’re eager to see Mr. Mayorkas win the job.

“The nomination of Mayorkas represents a bold and inspired pick,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, a major Hispanic-rights group in the Washington region.

Foremost, activists expect him to revive the full Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that is protecting hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” from deportation. “Dreamers” are immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. President Trump has spent three years trying to end the program, but that has been stalled by the courts.

Mr. Mayorkas was head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2012 when DACA was created, and he oversaw the implementation that not only allowed for deportation protections and work permits, but also allowed an indirect pathway to citizenship for thousands of DACA recipients through a policy known as advance parole.

Chris Newman, general counsel at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said his group was one of the toughest critics of the Obama administration, but he said Mr. Mayorkas was “quite good” on DACA and also on working with sanctuary cities.

Late in the Obama years, as sanctuary policies expanded, Homeland Security sought to reach accommodations with them to share some data. Mr. Mayorkas met with officials across the country and, Mr. Newman said, he was willing to strike deals that protected many lower-level offenders.

“He was accommodating of the local jurisdictions that were the engines of revolt against the Obama deportation policy,” Mr. Newman said.

Mr. Mayorkas was U.S. attorney in Los Angeles in the latter Clinton years, then won unanimous confirmation to lead USCIS in 2009 under President Obama.

Those good feelings had eroded by 2013, when he was up for the job of deputy secretary, winning confirmation on a 54-41 vote. He likely would have been blocked had Democrats not triggered the nuclear option a month earlier and defanged the filibuster as a tool for obstructing presidential nominees.

Republicans opposed Mr. Mayorkas because of an ongoing investigation into his oversight of a key visa program for wealthy investors during his time at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the matter — now concluded — is certain to come up in his confirmation hearings.

“I’m surprised that Biden would select Mayorkas, since his nomination will inevitably raise anew the questions about how he used his position as USCIS director under Obama to do favors for Harry Reid and Terry McAuliffe,” said Rosemary Jenks, vice president at NumbersUSA, which argues for stricter immigration limits. “I’m equally surprised that Mayorkas would want to face those questions in a Senate confirmation process.”

Mr. Mayorkas was accused of stepping in to aid several high-powered Democrats, including Mr. Reid, then majority leader in the Democrat-led Senate, and Mr. McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia governor.

Both had asked him to intervene to help in clearing visas for some of their associates under the EB-5 program, a scandal-plagued visa that allows wealthy foreigners to buy a pathway to citizenship as long as they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Homeland Security inspector general in 2015 released a report dinging Mr. Mayorkas for going “outside of the normal adjudicatory process” to intervene in those cases “in ways that benefited the stakeholders.”

“Mr. Mayorkas’ conduct led many USCIS employees to reasonably believe that specific individuals or groups were being given special access or consideration in the EB-5 program,” the inspector general said.

He said “an extraordinary number” of employees had flagged the behavior.

Mr. Mayorkas vehemently rebutted the charges, saying he got involved in the three cases because the system was breaking down, not because he was trying to aid important Democrats.

He said the employees who complained didn’t have the “complete context” of the situation and he was trying to get to “the right result” in the cases where he intervened. He said he was asked to step in by other employees, members of Congress and stakeholders.

Mr. Johnson, the department secretary and Mr. Mayorkas’s boss, said his deputy broke trust with USCIS employees, but rejected calls to discipline Mr. Mayorkas at the time, saying he was too valuable to suspend.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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