Senate confirms Mayorkas as Biden’s homeland security secretary

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, making him the first immigrant and first Latino to head the department.

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The confirmation came in a close 56-43 vote on Tuesday, one day later than expected. The vote had been pushed from Monday to Tuesday due to inclement weather in Washington, Politico reported.

Mayorkas faced accusations of favoritism from Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who announced his intention to vote against confirming Mayorkas before Tuesday’s vote.

“The problem isn’t experience, not exactly,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor. “Mr. Mayorkas is all too familiar with the levers of power that control immigration law. ... As a high-ranking official in the Obama administration, Mr. Mayorkas did his best to turn U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services into an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party Royalty.”

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued that Mayorkas’s qualifications were “unassailable.”

“He is a 7-year veteran of the DHS and has already been confirmed by this chamber three times,” Schumer said. “He will be the first Latino and the first immigrant to hold the top job at DHS. I look forward to confirming Mr. Mayorkas today.”

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mayorkas will lead a task force aimed at reunifying families and children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border during former President Donald Trump’s term in office. It remained unclear Tuesday exactly how many families were separated, although court records have identified about 5,500 affected children, according to The Associated Press.

Biden is expected to sign an executive order creating the task force later Tuesday.

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Tuesday’s vote marked Mayorkas’ fourth Senate confirmation. In December 2014, the Senate confirmed his nomination to serve as deputy secretary of DHS under former President Barack Obama. Five years earlier, the Senate voted to approve of his nomination to serve as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mayorkas was also confirmed by the Senate in 1998, after then-President Bill Clinton tapped him to serve as U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

Mayorkas, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, came to the United States in 1960 as his parents fled the Cuban Revolution. The family settled in Southern California. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and received his law degree from Loyola Law School.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.