Mayorkas confirmed as secretary of Homeland Security

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Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed on Tuesday to serve as secretary of Homeland Security, putting him in charge of carrying out the Biden administration’s immigration agenda and tackling national security concerns.

The Senate backed Mayorkas in a 56-43 vote, the tightest confirmation vote for a Biden nominee so far.

Mayorkas is expected to get to work immediately, as he will be present at the White House on Tuesday afternoon for President Joe Biden to sign three immigration-related executive orders. Vice President Kamala Harris, afterward, will do a ceremonial swearing-in for Mayorkas.

The new DHS secretary is entering the role with a long to-do list. He will play a key role in carrying out Biden’s immigration agenda, protecting the U.S. from domestic terrorism threats and helping coordinate coronavirus vaccine distribution. DHS, the nation’s third-largest federal department, also oversees emergency management and cybersecurity and infrastructure security.

On Tuesday afternoon, Biden will announce that Mayorkas will be head of a task force to reunite families separated at the southern border under the Trump administration. As part of his new duties, Mayorkas will also review the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols program that has forced tens of thousands people to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are processed.

He’s the first Senate-confirmed leader of DHS since Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted from the role in April 2019. Acting Secretary Chad Wolf resigned shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Wolf cited ongoing court rulings challenging the legality of his appointment to the post as one of the reasons for his departure.

Mayorkas is the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the department. He’s a Cuban-born lawyer and one of the chief architects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He served as DHS deputy secretary and director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Barack Obama.

Senate Democrats and the Biden administration had pushed to get Mayorkas confirmed by Biden’s inauguration, but it was delayed over Republican pushback. Some Republicans maintained that there were several issues with his nomination, including a 2015 DHS inspector general report that found Mayorkas showed “an appearance of favoritism and special access” for certain visa recipients. Others more explicitly criticized him for his — and Biden’s — views on immigration.

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