US Senate confirms Alejandro Mayorkas, first Latino to head Homeland Security

Mayorkas (above) is a former US attorney who was born in Havana and arrived in the US as the infant son of refugees.
Mayorkas (above) is a former US attorney who was born in Havana and arrived in the US as the infant son of refugees.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate on Tuesday (Feb 2) confirmed Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas as the next secretary of homeland security, the first Hispanic and first immigrant to lead the department that oversees immigration and border issues.

The confirmation, on a modestly bipartisan vote of 56-43, comes as President Joe Biden takes steps to reverse some of predecessor Donald Trump's hardline anti-immigration rules, and amid calls to implement reforms in border policies and the status of millions of undocumented migrants.

Mayorkas, 61, a former US attorney who was born in Havana and arrived in the United States as the infant son of refugees, held senior posts in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during Barack Obama's administration.

At least six Republicans joined the Democrats in approving Mayorkas, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out opposed, saying Mayorkas "does not deserve Senate confirmation."

During his time in DHS under Obama, Mayorkas accommodated high-ranking Democrats by "shoving through green cards as political favours," as well as intervening in immigration cases, McConnell said before the vote.

Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein said she was looking forward to working with Mayorkas in his new role.

"As the first immigrant to serve as the Secretary of @DHSgov, he will restore the needed compassion and morality that has been sadly missing from the department for too long," Feinstein said on Twitter.

Mayorkas was confirmed hours after the Senate cleared Pete Buttigieg to become secretary of transportation, the first-ever openly gay member of a White House Cabinet confirmed by the Senate.