Alejandro-Mayorkas Alejandro Mayorkas came to the US from Cuba in 1960.
Image via screenshot

Alejandro Mayorkas has already served in the government as deputy secretary of the department during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American who arrived with his parents as refugees from Fidel Castro’s Cuba, on Monday became the first immigrant and Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees immigration policy and border security.

President-elect Joe Biden chose the 61 year old Mayorkas to head the troubled federal government department which has seen President Donald Trump push to tighten border security, escalate deportations, decrease refugee admissions, and construct a larger wall along the border with Mexico.

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Mayorkas has already served in the government as deputy secretary of the department during President Barack Obama’s second term. He was the second-in-command in the department, and headed its citizenship agency. 

A Challenge Ahead

Although it is not clear at this time how much, or when, Biden would reverse Donald Trump’s immigration policies, on Monday Mayorkas tweeted about the challenges he faces in his new position.

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge,” he wrote. “Now, I have been nominated to be 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.”

A Young Exile

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1959, he arrived in the US with his parents and his sister in 1960, following the Cuban revolution. He lived in Miami, Florida, before his family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he was raised.

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In 1981, Mayorkas earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction from the University of California, Berkeley, and four years later received his Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He currently resides in the nation’s capital with his wife and two of his three daughters.

A Government of Diversity

Biden, who ran his campaign promising an administration that “looks like America” in all its diversity, is keeping his promise with, according to data provided to CNN, 46% of transition staff and 41% of senior managers consisting of people of color. The majority of transition staff, or 52%, is comprised of women.

Lawyer Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón—who was born in the Dominican Republic and was a former ambassador during the Obama administration—will be Jill Biden’s chief of staff. And Deputy Campaign Manager Julie Rodríguez, granddaughter of the late farmworker union leader César Chávez, will be director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House. 

This has earned Biden high praise from other Latinos in government.

“I am incredibly pleased to see President-elect Biden send a clear message of hope and support for American values to the world in choosing candidates who possess the qualifications, the demeanor, and the temperament to serve in leadership positions and represent the American people at home and abroad,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose parents also immigrated from Cuba.