CABINET HEARING: Alejandro Mayorkas, Homeland Security Secretary
January 19, 2021
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on Alejandro Mayorkas’s confirmation to be Secretary of Homeland Security. He was asked to discuss his thoughts on the responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the primary issues the Department will need to address under the new administration. He was also questioned about his previous experience as the Deputy Secretary of DHS and the Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Mayorkas Directorship at USCIS – Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) cited a DHS Inspector General report detailing Mayorkas’s intervention in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program and the creation of a Deference Review Board to review staff with handpicked individuals to evaluate a series of Time Warner movie projects. Sen. Portman asked about both the accuracy of this report and for an explanation for the lack of records from the proceeding of this board. Mayorkas stated that the EB-5 program administered by USCIS was plagued with problems, especially the retroactive cancellation of EB-5 projects during the adjudicative process despite the significant capital and jobs that the projects provided in economically underserved communities. He stated that he created the deference review board to resolve such issues and acknowledged that he was unaware the board had not been gathered since the specific cases mentioned by the Inspector General and that he was also unaware that no records had been kept of these board meetings.
- Coronavirus Pandemic – Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI) asked Mayorkas what his priorities would be in deploying DHS resources to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Mayorkas stated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has tremendous reach to ensure the effectiveness of the supply chain for vaccines, tests, and equipment necessary for responding to the pandemic. Mayorkas said the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has the responsibility of protecting testing and the vaccine supply chain from cyberattacks.
- Threat of White Supremacists and Domestic Terrorists – Ranking Member Peters asked Mayorkas what steps he would take to address the persistent and growing threat white supremacists pose. Mayorkas stated that the threat of domestic extremism is one of the greatest issues that DHS faces. He committed to prioritizing existing statutes and resources to combat white supremacist violence and consult with members of minority communities before pursuing new domestic terrorism authorities to prevent future attacks. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) asked Mayorkas what his plans were to address antisemitism on online platforms. Mayorkas stated that he would build on the non-profit grant program established in the past to fight antisemitism.
- Southern Border – Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked Mayorkas if he was responsible for detaining immigrants at the USCIS detention facility in McAllen, Texas where families were separated at the border. Mayorkas stated that the detention program existed before his directorship and that he opposed the family separation policies.
- Migrant Caravan – Multiple Senators questioned if Mayorkas believed that the desire for economic improvement was a valid asylum claim. Mayorkas acknowledged that this justification was outside the requirements of existing asylum law. Sen. James Lankford (R-OH) asked Mayorkas if there was anything he would like to say about the migrant caravan. Mayorkas stated that the U.S. was prepared to accept those who met the requirements outlined in the asylum law, but that it would take time to build the infrastructure and capacity to enforce the asylum laws as Congress intended.
- Alliance for Prosperity – Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) asked Mayorkas to speak to the mission of the Alliance for Prosperity. Mayorkas discussed the president-elect’s directive to identify the push factor in irregular migration from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) to the United States.
- Border Wall – Sen. Lankford asked if Mayorkas would recommend that any of the physical barriers along the southern border be removed. Mayorkas stated that he has not researched the issue yet, but that he does not believe there is a monolithic answer to monitoring the southern border because not all areas require a physical border.
- COVID-19 Prevention During Immigration Process – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) asked what steps Mayorkas would take to ensure that DHS creates a COVID-19 testing strategy that protects communities while ensuring asylum seekers are treated fairly. Mayorkas stated that that the health and well-being of the American public is the highest priority and committed to protecting immigration agents and providing humanitarian relief to asylum seekers. Sen. Sinema asked Mayorkas if he would improve vaccine distribution and access for the DHS workforce. Mayorkas confirmed this is a high priority issue.
- Border Technology Problems – Sen. Sinema asked what the border technology problems are that Mayorkas wants to examine once confirmed. Mayorkas stated that he would utilize the newest technologies to ensure border security while facilitating and promoting lawful trade and travel.
- E-Verify Program – Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) asked Mayorkas if he supported the E-Verify Program. Mayorkas said that enrollment in this program increased during his tenure as Deputy Secretary at DHS and he looked forward to studying how the program can become more effective.
- Cybersecurity – Sen. Romney asked Mayorkas which offensive and defensive actions he would take regarding cybersecurity. Mayorkas stated that the threat of cyberattacks has evolved and noted this is a high priority. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked if Mayorkas had initial thoughts on the performance of the Einstein Program and Continuing Diagnostics and Mitigation Program (CDM) in preventing the SolarWoods attack. Mayorkas stated that he would conduct a thorough investigation of these programs to evaluate if they are appropriately designed and effectively executed to stop an attack like SolarWinds.
- Chinese Products – Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) asked Mayorkas what he would do to inform the public of the risks of products that are produced via slave labor, counterfeited, or of poor quality from China. Mayorkas stated that he is very aware of these issues with China as well as issues with illegal substances sent from China and that he will devote considerable attention to these threats.
- Protection of DACA and TPS – Sen. Rosen asked how Mayorkas will protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) until a new immigration policy can be passed. Mayorkas stated that he will uphold the president-elect’s wishes to uphold DACA and TPS. Sen. Rosen asked how the TPS review process can be strengthened to provide more certainty to TPS recipients. Mayorkas stated that he looks forward to working with Congress and finding a permanent solution to immigration reform.
The incoming Biden administration’s expected policies at the southern border were of interest to many senators, as the Biden administration is expected to diverge significantly from the Trump administration’s immigration and border security policies, including the separation of families, refugee and asylum policies, and DACA. Another pervasive theme of the hearing was the attack on the Capitol less than two weeks ago. Mayorkas committed to doing everything in his power to “ensure that the tragic loss of life, the assault on law enforcement, the desecration of the building that stands as one of the three pillars of our democracy, and the terror felt by you, your colleagues, staff, and everyone present, will not happen again.” Senate Democrats are eager to confirm Mayorkas as soon as possible due to the security threats facing the capital region and the United States as a whole.
Mayorkas’s nomination will need to be voted out of the Committee before coming up for a vote on the Senate floor. Although Mayorkas is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said he plans to object to quick consideration of Mayorkas, effectively delaying the floor vote. Sen. Hawley cited the incoming Biden administration’s immigration policies, particularly at the southern border. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has also noted that he has concerns with a swift confirmation due to the aforementioned 2015 inspector general report.