What Biden’s pick to head DHS must do
Perhaps the most consequential decision the new Biden-Harris administration will make is who it taps to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The administration should appoint someone with both a personal understanding of the immigrant community and stellar credentials and qualifications for this top post. That is why we strongly support former DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Two weeks after one of the most historic and divided elections in recent memory, the question of how President-elect Joe Biden will unify our nation and effectively govern has been top of mind for most Americans. While the pandemic and the economy topped Latino voter concerns heading to the polls this past cycle, the impact of immigration policies on our families and communities continues to be of utmost importance to our community as well. Although eight in 10 Latinos are U.S. citizens, the majority of Hispanics report knowing someone who is undocumented. For many, immigration is also deeply personal as nearly six million American children, most of whom are Latino, live with a loved one without permanent status.
We will never forget that Donald Trump began his candidacy for president vilifying Mexicans as “rapists” and “murderers.” The attacks—whether rhetorical or in the shape of policies—continued unabated once he took office. In the four years of his presidency, we have witnessed a vacuum of leadership, decency, and respect for basic human dignity at the highest levels of government. This has led to a deep distrust in our leaders’ ability to fairly administer the nation’s immigration laws and a profound rejection from Americans of all backgrounds of the anti-immigrant and racists attacks disproportionately directed at Latinos.
These are among the many challenges a Biden-Harris administration will face as they chart a new course on immigration policy in the months ahead. Policy prescriptions—both those undoing past harms or those forward-looking—and a federal budget that is fair and inclusive will be essential for an effective immigration strategy. But, perhaps the most consequential decision the administration will make is who it taps to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency entrusted to administer and enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
It’s a big job, and the next leader of the department should be chosen carefully. Among their various duties, the next DHS secretary will also oversee the department’s three immigration-related components: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Each play a critical role in the lives of thousands of Latinos every day. The next DHS secretary will have to work to undo a legacy of haphazard and anti-immigrant policymaking within each, and restore and reaffirm America’s promise as one that welcomes and embraces immigrants.
The next leader of DHS must first and foremost be a person who, shaped by their own personal and professional experiences, understands that the community’s angst and frustration from the past four years demand a fresh and steadfast approach to the management of our nation’s largest federal enforcement agency and our outdated immigration system. We believe a Biden-Harris administration should appoint someone with both a personal understanding of the immigrant community and stellar credentials and qualifications for the top post at the department.
Choosing the right leader is as important an expression about policy priorities as it is about management. The next DHS secretary must be someone who can hit the ground running, with the expertise and experience necessary to move the legal and operational levers required for a different path forward on immigration. This would likewise require that the next secretary understand the inner workings of the nation’s third-largest federal agency.
The next secretary must also have the respect of relevant stakeholders, including the diverse Latino and immigrant communities, immigration advocates, and law enforcement. To be clear, UnidosUS has, in its long history, never been shy about calling out friends and foes alike, when their actions (or inactions) are not in the interest of the community. And while a full alignment is unrealistic, earning and keeping the respect of relevant stakeholders is about listening and considering all sides of an issue as part of a leader’s decision-making process. This builds trust and is essential to maximizing the opportunity for meaningful structural changes at the department.
That is why UnidosUS strongly supports former DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who has that expertise, experience, and a proven track record of both working with all communities engaged on these issues and of effective and humane policymaking and implementation. He not only would have the support of many in the Latino community, but would also bring support from other stakeholders, such as immigrant rights groups, members of Congress, business, labor, and law enforcement groups. And most importantly, he will be ready on day one to lead.