- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday to be the new secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, giving President Biden a point person to begin unwinding what he called the “cruelty” of the Trump administration toward immigrants, both legal and illegal.

Mr. Biden issued Mr. Mayorkas his first missions in a series of three executive orders Tuesday evening that told him to review all Trump policies and recommend cancellations, to reopen the country’s asylum system, and to study the causes of illegal immigration.

Mr. Biden also revoked a Trump policy that made it tougher for illegal immigrants to collect welfare and created a task force to reunify illegal immigrant children separated from their parents in 2018 under President Trump’s zero tolerance border policy.

“This is about how America’s safer, stronger, more prosperous when we have a fair, orderly, more humane immigration system,” the president said in the Oval Office.

This week’s moves come on top of Inauguration Day changes, including a halt to construction of the southern border wall and a 100-day pause on almost all deportations.

The deportation pause has been put on hold by a federal judge in Texas, who ruled Mr. Biden’s team moved without “reasoned decision-making.”

Mr. Trump’s border wall and the funding he used to build it is slated to be argued before the Supreme Court this month, but Mr. Biden’s Justice Department this week asked the justices to cancel that hearing, saying the new president’s orders should be allowed to play out.

On no other issue is the gap between the previous and current president as deep as on immigration, and the rash of orders underscores the focus Mr. Biden is placing on the issue — and the amount of work it will take to try to unwind Mr. Trump’s signature policies.

The new president insisted his spate of orders were needed to remove the “stain” Mr. Trump left on America’s immigration system.

“I’m not making new law, I’m eliminating bad policy,” he said.

Some security experts and Republicans, though, said Mr. Biden is inviting a new migrant surge even larger than the 2018 and 2019 surges that spurred Mr. Trump to enact many of the policies.

“The caravans will start to flow again, and America will be under siege once again by new waves of migrants responding to the Biden administration’s weak policies on immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

He said Democrats need to realize that “what President Trump did in securing our border and reforming our asylum laws worked.”

Immigrant-rights groups cheered the moves — and said they want Mr. Biden to go further.

Some groups plan to rally on Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday to demand the president release all illegal immigrant families from detention, canceling a policy that the Obama administration expanded.

Where Mr. Trump saw illegal immigration as a response to lax U.S. policies and sought to stiffen them, Mr. Biden, in his executive orders, made clear he thinks the root cause lies in Latin America.

Still, his moves were less expansive than he had suggested during the campaign. His team in recent weeks has acknowledged that a full erasure of Mr. Trump’s policies would spark a new surge, so instead the president’s plans involved studies and task forces he hopes will come back with answers.

Mr. Mayorkas stood near Mr. Biden in the Oval Office as he signed the orders Tuesday.

Just two hours earlier, the Senate voted 56-43 to confirm him to the secretary’s post — the closest vote for any of Mr. Biden’s nominees so far.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Mr. Mayorkas built an ethically challenged record during his time in the Obama administration, first as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and later as deputy secretary at the department.

An inspector general found that while at USCIS, Mr. Mayorkas intervened to have the agency approve wealthy investor visa applications from people connected to high-powered Democrats, including then-top Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Clinton.

“And when questioned about these actions, Mr. Mayorkas responded with false and conflicting statements, including while under oath,” Mr. McConnell said Tuesday, pointing to the 2015 inspector general’s report containing those findings.

But Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, said Mr. Mayorkas’ record as deputy secretary should supersede that report.

“I know that Ali can do this job, he’s already demonstrated that,” Mr. Carper said.

Mr. Mayorkas inherits the most sprawling and troubled bureaucracy in the federal government, with duties ranging from controlling the borders to catching child pornographers and from stopping cyberattacks to sniffing out fake COVID-19 cures.

Mr. Mayorkas, who came to the U.S. with his parents fleeing Cuba, also makes history as the first Hispanic and first immigrant to hold the top post at the department, which was established in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It’s been nearly two years since Homeland Security had a confirmed secretary. Mr. Trump preferred to manage through a series of acting chiefs at the department and its key immigration agencies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement went all four years without a confirmed head.

Having someone to carry out his policies at Homeland Security may be even more important for Mr. Biden, given the struggle he’s already facing in getting bipartisan cooperation in Congress on his immigration plans.

The president has proposed a massive legalization program for most illegal immigrants, with little attention to border security or enforcement against unauthorized workers. Democrats have said they want to power that through, but key Republicans have said it’s a non-starter.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who was part of successful immigration negotiations in 2013, said Congress needs to focus on coronavirus relief, the sluggish economy and the challenges from China.

“Once these have been addressed we should modernize our immigration laws, but not with blanket amnesty,” he said.

Mr. Graham, the other Republican still in the chamber who was part of those 2013 negotiations, said he’s open to a deal, but said Mr. Biden’s rash of executive orders is “making it harder and harder.”

He said he and Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, will be reintroducing the Dream Act to legalize Dreamers, which he called a starting point. But he said the more people who get added to the legalization, the more Mr. Biden will have to accept Republican ideas on security and cutting down the jobs magnet that draws people to the U.S. illegally.

“I’m telling you right now if you are going to do immigration you’re going to have to deal with a secure border,” the South Carolina senator said.

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