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Next DHS Leader: Alejandro Mayorkas?

Alejandro Mayorkas, a former California federal prosecutor and Homeland Security Department (DHS) Deputy Secretary, will be nominated by President-elect Joseph Biden to lead the nation's third largest Cabinet agency.

Should Mayorkas be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the Cuban immigrant would be DHS's first Latino and foreign-born Secretary. Mayorkas, whose prior DHS stint was under President Barack Obama, is widely expected to overhaul President Trump’s controversial hard line immigration policies.

DHS also oversees CISA -- the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The CISA, in turn, has worked aggressively to alert MSPs and MSSPs about ongoing cyberthreats that specifically target service providers and their end-customers.

The CISA, previously led by Christopher Krebs, was responsible for securing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Without disclosing any specific evidence, President Trump alleged the elections were not secure and fired Krebs in November.

Alejandro Mayorkas: Experience and Cybersecurity Background

Mayorkas was born in Havana and came to the U.S. with his family as a toddler, first settling in Florida before moving to California. “When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge,” Mayorkas wrote in a Twitter post following the announcement. “Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.”

He has an impressive list of cybersecurity accomplishments, according to his DHS profile:

  • Led the development and implementation of new cybersecurity policies and operational plans, and helped shape federal legislation, in establishing the Department’s role in cybersecurity information sharing, data privacy protection, public-private partnerships, protection of the .gov space, and the investigation of cyber attacks in the public and private sectors.
  • Led the U.S. delegation in negotiating and concluding its cybersecurity partnership with the State of Israel. He worked closely with the leader of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau to form joint ventures in cybersecurity research and development, new ties between U.S. and Israeli technology and cybersecurity companies, and the development and recruitment of cyber talent.
  • Led the Department’s negotiation of the cybersecurity agreement between the United States and China. He led the Department’s delegation in overseeing the agreement’s implementation and building the civilian and criminal investigative framework with the government of China.

During the Clinton administration, Mayorkas served as U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. In his prior role in the Obama administration, Mayorkas directed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from 2009 to 2013 and was subsequently elevated to DHS Deputy Secretary in 2014. From that post he directed DHS's response to the Ebola virus in 2013-2014 and the Zika virus in 2015-2016.

Alejandro Mayorkas: Earlier Debate

Of note, Mayorkas did not win a single Republican vote when he was confirmed as DHS Deputy Secretary. His nomination hearings for DHS Secretary likely won’t proceed without controversy. In 2015, a DHS Inspector General’s (IG) report found that he had improperly intervened as USCIS director to fast track reviews in three cases for foreign investor visas. While the IG found that his actions didn’t violate the law, Mayorkas was roundly criticized for creating an impression of improper outside influence.

In a statement following the IG’s report, Mayorkas said that as USCIS leader he had the responsibility to ensure the three cases were “decided as the law required and that agency errors were corrected. I fulfilled that responsibility and I also took steps to ensure that my involvement was understood by those around me.” He said he would learn from the experience.

Mayorkas is currently a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.