President-elect Joe Biden has been rolling out his cabinet picks and, as the New York Times commented, his nominees are largely familiar faces with little baggage attached. It will be nice to have qualified people at the nation’s helm again. We’re keeping an eye on Biden’s choices and one in particular caught our attention: Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
If Mayorkas is confirmed, he will make history as the first Latino and Cuban-born immigrant to head the DHS. We can already hear the criticism: He’ll be too easy on immigration policy, he’ll open the borders, etc. But so far there’s no reason to believe that will be the case.
Mayorkas was the deputy secretary of homeland security during Barack Obama’s second term and the director of the department’s legal immigration agency. And Obama’s track-record on immigration was … well, Obama was called the “Deporter-in-Chief” by immigrant-rights activists. According to ABC News, 2.5 million people were deported between 2009 and 2015, and the immigrant detention camps were built under the Obama administration.
All that said, President Donald Trump took immigration policies to the extreme. Obama’s policies targeted convicted criminals; Trump’s strategies have indiscriminately affected all immigrants. His zero-tolerance policy at the Mexican border led to hundreds of families being separated, often with the adults sent back while the children spent weeks to months in cages or were swept into the foster care system. Not to mention the extreme restrictions placed on asylum seekers and refugees, and the new rules that forced immigrants to wait for non-existent court dates in tent cities on the other side of the border. And his bigoted Muslim bans.
We could keep going, but there is a point we’re trying to make: Mayorkas is extremely unlikely to open our borders the way we’re sure many conservatives will claim. He’s also not likely to bring the kind of sweeping pro-immigration reform that some progressives would like to see.
What he is likely to do, however, is roll back Trump’s most cruel policies — and hopefully some of Obama’s stringent guidelines. Mayorkas can bring humanity back to an office that has largely operated as Trump’s iron fist the last four years. We expect the new leader of the Department of Homeland Security to implement fair and humane strategies and to treat immigrants with dignity.
Mayorkas seems like a promising candidate to run the DHS, but we can’t assume that under his leadership, there will be no more kids in cages, no more forced sterilizations, no more rampant sexual assault and no more disease spreading through border facilities like wildfire. There may be adjustments coming in the upper echelons of our immigration infrastructure, but the boots on the ground aren’t likely to change. If we want to ensure reform, we need to keep a close eye on what is actually happening and apply pressure when necessary to keep the transformation going.