Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, told the U.S. Senate panel of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he will work with both parties to secure the homeland, with his first commitment to executing Biden’s homeland security policies.
The senators questioned Mayorkas about a variety of issues including border security, cybersecurity, and the threat from China. Questions from the Democrats mainly focused on the response to the pandemic and on domestic terrorist threats from white supremacist groups, while Republicans focused on immigration policy and border security.
Mayorkas was asked multiple questions by Republicans about border security and his stance on immigration, to which he responded with praise for Biden’s plans to reform the asylum system.
“President-elect Biden is committed to presenting Congress on day one with a permanent solution and immigration reform bill and I would be privileged to serve as a secretary and work with Congress in passing legislation to fix our much-broken immigration system," he said. "President-elect Biden also has committed to reinstituting the DACA program that I was proud to implement.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) turned the attention of the committee to past migrant caravans, getting acknowledgment from Mayorkas that the detention facilities that were highlighted by media outlets as imprisoning migrants were created well before the Trump administration and some during the Obama era.
Johnson asked, “It is true that the Obama administration built the facility in McAllen, Texas?” To which Mayorkas replied, “Yes, sir.”
Mayorkas also added that he will be privileged to execute a “bold vision for addressing the root causes of irregular migration from the northern triangle countries.”
The Senate committees held five confirmation hearings Tuesday. Democrats called for a swift confirmation for the DHS nominee. If confirmed, Mayorkas would become the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the department. He arrived with his parents from Cuba as a refugee in 1960.
Ranking member Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) criticized the turnover in the department during the Trump administration.
“Over the last four years, the department has endured some chaos, mismanagement, and instability,” Peters said.
Referring to calls from the progressive wing of the Democrat Party for defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) asked whether Mayorkas would follow through with that.
Mayorkas said he wouldn’t abolish ICE or Customs and Border Protection. “I would not abolish them,” Mayorkas said.
Both Scott and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked whether Mayorkas would spend the $1.4 billion on the U.S.-Mexico border wall system that Congress recently appropriated.
Mayorkas said he would need to “understand what the law provides with respect to the obligation of funds to construct the border wall, and then see what the opportunities are to discontinue any such obligations, if in fact the law permits, and act accordingly.”
In light of a recent cyber-breach of federal agencies’ data, senators asked the nominee about his commitment to addressing cybersecurity threats.
Mayorkas said, "I can assure you that the cybersecurity of our nation will be one of my highest priorities because I concur with you that the threat is real, and the threat is every day, and we have to do a much better job than we are doing now."
Peters asked him about the department's response to COVID-19 and how he would improve it.
The former Obama cabinet member said, “I look forward to working with this committee to study how the department performed and what more it can do in battling the pandemic.”
Peters said Arabs, Jews, black churches, and mosques in his state are fearing "white supremacists’ violence" and asked what his department will do to combat the threat.
“My question to you is, will you commit today to prioritizing existing statutes and resources to combat white supremacist violence and undertake the extensive consultation with me and leaders of the Arab American and other minority communities before pursuing new domestic terrorism authorities to prevent future attacks," to which Mayorkas answered, "Yes."
“(We) will be open, transparent, and responsive to this committee on a bipartisan basis, number one. Number two, the threat of domestic extremism is one of the greatest challenges the Department of Homeland Security confronts,” said Mayorkas, adding that collecting and sharing intelligence is key to rooting out the domestic threat.
Scott questioned Mayorkas about what he would do regarding slave labor goods coming from China.
Mayorkas said he is well aware of the exploitation of workers in China, and the number of illegal substances that are imported into the United States, “that kill thousands and thousands of Americans every day.”
He added, “I will devote considerable resources and considerable attention to battling these grave and serious threats.”
Mayorkas previously held the role of director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and later as deputy secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama. His nomination now heads to the Senate for a confirmation vote.