Meet the Cuban Immigrant Who Could Run Homeland Security

PHOTO: mayorkas

Expect some bickering on Thursday as Senate committee hearings begin for the confirmation of Alejandro Mayorkas as the No. 2 at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This is an even bigger deal than usual, because Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leaving her position in September. That would make Mayorkas the acting leader of a department that oversees everything from immigration and counter-terrorism to disaster response.

Here are four things to know about Alejandro "Ali" Mayorkas:

1. He's the current director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). That's the branch of DHS that handles immigration paperwork. He's held that position since 2009.

2. Soon after news broke that Mayorkas could become the deputy secretary of DHS, the Associated Press reported that the Homeland Security Inspector General's Office was looking at him as part of an investigation.

The office is reportedly examining how a company run by Hillary Clinton's brother was able to secure a visa for investors, even after an application was denied and an appeal was rejected.

An email sent by investigators to legislators on Monday shows that it's too soon to draw conclusions. "At this point in our investigation, we do not have any findings of criminal misconduct," it read.

3. He would be the first foreign-born person to run Homeland Security since the department was founded in 2002.

Mayorkas was born in Havana, Cuba, and brought to the U.S. in 1960, before his first birthday. His family arrived in Beverly Hills as refugees: his father was a Cuban Jew and his mother was Romanian Jew whose family fled to Cuba amid Nazi persecution, Los Angeles Magazine reported in 2000.

He spoke about that experience during a 2009 Senate committee hearing for his nomination as director of USCIS:

"My father lost the country of his birth, and my mother, for the second time in her young life, was forced to flee a country she considered home. But our flight to security gave us the gift of this wonderful new homeland. I know how very fortunate I am."

In 2010, he spoke to the Washington Post about how his immigrant experience has affected his leadership:

"I understand deeply the experience of the people who come before us," he said. "I speak therefore not just with passion but I think with standing, and I share those sensitivities with my colleagues."

4. He's a federal prosecutor by trade but has an established reputation at DHS. Mayorkas made his name as the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, where he prosecuted cases involving corruption among public figures, drug trafficking and, of course, immigration. As the head of USCIS, he managed 18,000 workers in 250 offices across the world.

Update, July 25, 12:10 p.m.: I updated the story with biographical info about Mayorkas and his family, based on reporting in this 2000 Los Angeles Magazine article.

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