NPNA Applauds Confirmation of First DHS Secretary of Latino Immigrant Origin

WASHINGTON –  Today, Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) applauds the historic confirmation of the first Latino, first immigrant and first child of Holocaust survior refugees to become secretary of the federal agency tasked with implementing immigration law. Mayorkas’ confirmation signals a move away from the Trump administration’s draconian and deadly policies and adopt a more rational and humane approach to federal implementation of immigration laws.

“We are eager to work with new DHS Secretary Mayorkas to begin the critical and long-overdue work of modernizing our immigration system. His confirmation marks the transition from cruel policies at the agency to a focus on greater inclusion and integration of immigrants and refugees into the social, economic, and cultural fabric of our society,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of NPNA. “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to make immediate and urgently needed changes to federal immigration policy, which will help to bring into focus a new vision for how this country treats immigrant and refugee communities.” 

Mayorkas taking reigns at DHS restores credibility to the agency, as he brings decades of experience as a homeland security expert and is respected across the political spectrum. As the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Mayorkas developed and implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and expanded fee waivers for naturalization and immigration applications under the Obama administration. 

NPNA has urged several changes to reform the federal immigration system, many of which can be carried out administratively. These include USCIS, a subagency of DHS, taking immediate steps to expand access to citizenship, including reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to limit fee waivers; reducing the backlog of nearly one million citizenship applications; rescinding the new civics test; streamlining the application process; and implementing voluntary, automatic voter registration for all newly naturalized citizens.

DHS can also lead in the inclusion and integration of immigrants through the role it plays as part of a Task Force of New Americans, which the Biden-Harris campaign pledged to reinstate in its first 100 days, which the Biden-Harris administration reinstated through executive order today.

Last week, Representatives Grace Meng (NY), Jesus “Chuy” García (IL) and Pramila Jayapal (WA) and Senators Ed Markey (MA) and Hirono (HI) introduced the National Office of New Americans Act, which would create a National Office of New Americans within the White House. The National Office is similar to a Task Force, but, since it’s created by statute, could not be reversed by a subsequent administration, as the Trump administration did with President Obama’s Task Force on New Americans. 

The legislation is a stand-alone bill based on the New Deal for New Americans Act (H.R. 4928; S. 3470), which would create a visionary national strategy on immigrant integration, including: 

  • reducing the cost of applying for citizenship; 
  • statutorily protecting access to fee waivers; 
  • prohibiting application fees from being used for enforcement;
  • enacting voluntary, automatic voter registration for all newly naturalized citizens; and
  • strengthening access to justice and due process protections by creating legal services grant programs for community-based organizations.

With a capable leader at the helm of DHS, these reforms are far more likely to transform how the federal government treats immigrants and refugees. 

“I believe Alejandro Mayorkas will work as hard as is necessary to bring justice to our communities. We understand the damage DHS has done to immigrants over the past four years, and we could not think of a better public servant to lead this agency into a new era,” said Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and co-chair of NPNA’s Board of Directors. “Alejandro Mayorkas’ confirmation as Secretary of the DHS is a historic milestone for immigrants in the United States, as he will be the first Latino and first immigrant to serve in this important role,” she added. 

“NPNA extends our heartfelt congratulations to Alejandro Mayorkas on his historic confirmation as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. As an immigrant himself, Mayorkas knows that immigrants are an essential piece of the fabric of our nation. We look forward to working with him to restore trust in our institutions and ensure that our nation is a welcoming home where everyone can feel safe, including immigrants and refugees,” added Eva Millona, CEO of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and co-chair of NPNA’s Board of Directors.

“Going from Stephen Miller to Alejandro Mayorkas reflects how the country is course-correcting and putting respect and dignity at the center of immigrant policies,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA executive director and co-chair of NPNA’s Board of Directors. “His track record as law enforcement official, nationally-recognized lawyer, and leadership in previous administrations speaks to the new future for DHS in prioritizing immigrant families.”