Senate confirms Mayorkas as head of internal security for Biden


WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security Secretary to President Joe Biden, the first Latino to hold a post that will have a central role in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, a large-scale cyber-hack linked to Russia and domestic extremism.

Mayorkas was confirmed by a 56-43 vote, the narrowest margin yet for a cabinet candidate Biden. The first immigrant to hold the post, he will lead a major overhaul of the policy of an agency accused of being deeply politicized as he implemented President Donald Trump’s initiatives on immigration and law enforcement.

Mayorkas is a former federal prosecutor who previously served as a senior DHS official. His appointment was blocked in the Senate by Republicans who wanted to question him more about Biden’s plans for immigration policy. He also faced questions on his management of an investor visa program under President Barack Obama.

Biden’s team had hoped that Mayorkas would be confirmed by January 20. But Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri has put it on hold before the nomination, forcing a delay in the confirmation vote.

Democrats bristled at the delay.

“My friends across the way don’t have to agree with Mr Mayorkas on the intricacies of every policy, but we can certainly all agree that he knows the department, he understands the threats to security of our country and has what it takes. to lead DHS, ”Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as he called for a vote to lift a Republican filibuster on the nomination.

Even some Republican senators who had expressed reservations about the nomination admitted that DHS needed a confirmed secretary, as the nation faced so many challenges, including in the wake of the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill. by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election.

“I passed through the National Guard again to get here this morning. We have real problems, ”said Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, voting to send the committee nomination to the Senate for the vote.

Portman was among half a dozen Republicans who ultimately voted in favor of the nomination. Mayorkas was sworn in on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Mayorkas, whose family came to the United States from Cuba as refugees in 1960 and whose mother fled the Holocaust, was a federal prosecutor in Southern California before joining the Obama administration, first in as head of the immigration services agency and then as deputy secretary of DHS.

“Mr. Mayorkas is uniquely qualified to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security is working to protect people from all walks of life, from all communities and from all walks of life,” said Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan and Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senate Floor.

Under Trump, the department was often in turmoil and mired in controversy. The agency has carried out tough immigration crackdown initiatives, mostly separating migrant children from their parents as part of a zero tolerance campaign. in 2018. Mayorkas will work to reunite some still separated families as the head of a task force that Biden launched on Tuesday with an executive order.

Over the summer, DHS was widely condemned, including by some former secretaries, for deploying tactical agents without badges or badges to protests in Portland, Oregon, against the will of local authorities.

In September, a senior official filed a whistleblower complaint accusing domestic security leaders of downplaying threat warnings. that Trump might find reprehensible, including information about Russian election interference and the growing threat posed by white supremacists. And the president ousted the highly respected head of the DHS cybersecurity agency in November for his defense of the integrity of the 2020 election.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who spent more than a year in the post without Senate confirmation, and other senior officials turned routine press conferences into what to many appeared to be events of the Trump campaign, touting relatively minor enforcement measures as major political achievements.

Mayorkas, who rejected a proposal for family separation when he served under Obama, pledged to “end the inhuman and unfair treatment of immigrants,” but also to maintain border enforcement.

“We are a nation of immigrants and we are also a nation of laws,” he said during his confirmation hearing.

Brandon Judd, chairman of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents U.S. Border Patrol officers and others, said in a recent interview with the Fox Business Network that migrant smugglers have stepped up their attempts to bring people , including children, in the country due to a perception that the Biden administration will be less hostile. But he said he was “optimistic” about the choice of the new president of Mayorkas.

“He has appointed a very good secretary for DHS, a secretary who understands that policies affect border security,” he said.

Judd predicted that Mayorkas would get rid of some of Trump’s policies but look for others that “do the same thing” that was done under the previous administration. “And if he can do it, then we can still maintain border security.”

At Mayorkas’ confirmation hearing, senators raised the 2015 report from the Office of the Inspector General which criticized him for his handling of a program that granted US residency to foreign investors. The investigation found that he created an appearance of favoritism and political interference by directing the approval of three projects backed by prominent Democrats, overturning staff recommendations when he ran the services agency. immigration under Obama.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell denounced him in the Senate on Tuesday, saying Mayorkas should be barred from an even lower post for giving special treatment to figures such as Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham , and former governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe. “Mr. Mayorkas has done his best to turn the US citizenship and immigration service into an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty,” he said.

Mayorkas disputed the conclusion of the IG report and told senators that he intervened in the decisions, on behalf of Republicans and Democrats, to correct what he considered bad deeds. “When a chief comes into federal service with the power to solve the problems, that chief has the responsibility to solve the problems, and that’s what I did,” he said.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney, another Republican who voted in favor of the nomination, said during the confirmation hearing that he had discussed the report at length with Mayorkas in private and that he was convinced that he saw his action as a “mistake” that he would not repeat.

“We’ve just endured a president for four years that I will generously say had a relaxed relationship with the truth, and I think we want the highest level of integrity in government positions,” Romney said.

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