An immigrant to get the job done at Homeland Security | TheHill – The Hill

Posted By on December 5, 2020

Last Monday, President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE chose Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees immigration policy and border security among its vast portfolio of responsibilities.

In recent years, the department has been at the forefront of President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MOREs agenda to militarize border security, separate asylum-seeking families, slash refugee admissions, end protections for DREAMers and build additional walls along the border with Mexico.

Mayorkass background signals a stark contrast with recent predecessors who have unquestioningly championed these policies. Not only is he a seasoned veteran of the department, he is also poised to become the first immigrant and Latino to lead it.

His father was a Cuban native and Sephardic Jew and his mother, a Romanian Jew, fled with her family to Cuba amid Nazi persecution in the 1940s. The family then fled to the U.S. in 1960, when Mayorkas was just a baby, as a result of the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro.

In his first public statement since news of the nomination broke, Mayorkas noted that, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. 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.

It is particularly revealing of his character that Mayorkas explicitly includes refugees and asylum seekers within the protection of the federal government. This kind of express compassion and humanitarian tone has been completely absent over the past four years at a time, no less, when 80 million people have been displaced by violence, war and persecution. As someone who was forced to flee Sri Lanka on the brink of civil war, and who now leads a national refugee resettlement organization, this rhetoric and representation truly feels like the dawn of a new era of possibilities.

But Mayorkass qualifications go well beyond his personal experience as an immigrant. He previously served seven years in the Obama administration: four years as the Senate-confirmed director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and another three years as the deputy secretary of DHS.

Whereas DHS secretaries under the Trump administration were active and complicit in the heartless and illegal separation of migrant families, Mayorkas was responsible for implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program during his tenure as director of USCIS, thereby protecting more than 700,000 DREAMers from deportation. To even the most casual follower of immigration policy, the difference is night and day.

It is almost poetic that an immigrant and former refugee serve as our nations highest security official given the data that demonstrates how immigrants and refugees make us significantly safer. The most direct example of this are the 530,000 foreign-born veterans living in the U.S. right now. In addition, a study that examined the top U.S. cities that received the most refugees per capita found that nine of 10 actually became considerably safer, both in terms of violent and property crime. Additional research has thoroughly busted the myth that undocumented immigrants lead to higher crime rates to the contrary, states with larger shares of undocumented immigrants tend to have lower crime rates than states with smaller shares.

That Mayorkass nomination should come amid a global pandemic is no accident either. During his tenure at DHS, he oversaw the Departments response to both Ebola and Zika. Given that the Trump administrations legacy will be defined by a vehemently anti-immigrant agenda and a failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems fitting that Bidens nominee comes tested and ready on day one to rebuild a decimated immigration infrastructure and respond to the most pressing security threat we face one that has already claimed over 266,000 American lives.

This personnel decision is well in line with the Biden transitions laser focus on tested experience and humanitarian expertise. Tony Blinken, Bidens choice for Secretary of State and a former deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration, boasts a career in foreign policy and proven experience in addressing the global refugee crisis. Blinkens connection to this work is personal as well he is the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, whose stories have certainly informed his worldview and understanding of Americas role as the worlds moral compass.

Should Mayorkas and Blinken be confirmed by the Senate, we may see the dawn of a new day for refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and all who stand for welcoming our newest neighbors in need. There is much work to be done, but it seems the American people will have staunch allies who understand that we are at our fundamental best when we build bridges, not walls.

Krish OMara Vignarajah is the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a former senior adviser in the State Department, and former Policy Director for First Lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObama says he leans on daughters to create year-end playlists An immigrant to get the job done at Homeland Security Obama: 'Hopeless' to try to sell as many books as Michelle MORE.

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An immigrant to get the job done at Homeland Security | TheHill - The Hill

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