Mayorkas, Biden's Homeland Security Pick, 'Profoundly Aware of Antisemitism's Domestic Threat'

Domestic extremism, white supremacy and hate crimes to take top priority if he becomes Homeland Security Secretary, Mayorkas says in his confirmation hearing

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Washington, January 19, 2021.
Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Washington, January 19, 2021.Credit: BILL CLARK - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – U.S. Homeland Security Secretary-nominee Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday told his confirmation hearings that the department would prioritize combating domestic extremism under his watch, and that his family's experiences with antisemitism largely informed his longstanding work aimed at protecting the American-Jewish community.

"I am profoundly aware of the threat and existence of antisemitism in our country and world. My mother lost her paternal grandparents and seven uncles by reason of their Jewish faith in the Holocaust. My mother fled home with her parents because of the Holocaust," Mayorkas told the committee, referring to his Romanian-Jewish mother who fled to Cuba. "I have dedicated a considerable amount of my personal and professional energy to battling antisemitism and discrimination of all forms. Most recently I served on the advisory board of the Secure Community Network, sponsored by the Jewish Federation, to protect day schools, synagogues and places of worship."

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"I've worked with the Anti-Defamation League to battle discrimination, and hate of all forms, under my leadership as a Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. We grew the Nonprofit Security Grant Program [which allocates funds to nonprofit organizations facing terror threats] to best protect minority communities communities of faith, from the scourge of hate," Mayorkas said. "I would be privileged to work with you in this committee to make sure that we build on those advances. And once we tackle this challenge that has caused so much pain to so many."

Mayorkas said that the department under his watch would prioritize combating domestic extremism, white supremacy and hate crimes at both the national and local levels. He highlighted how he oversaw the creation of the first-ever civil rights division for the Central District of California while serving as U.S Attorney in the late 1990s.

Mayorkas highlighted the "apolitical and nonpartisan" role the department's intelligence office should play regarding information gathering, saying he wants to further empower this arm. He also welcomed the creation of an inter-agency task force to help facilitate information sharing across the arms of the United States government.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt previously told Haaretz that such a task force would be his primary policy recommendation to Biden on how to combat domestic extremism. “There isn’t a silver bullet or a magic wand. It’s going to require all the different arms of the federal government to work in concert if we really want to turn this around,” he said. 

Mayorkas noted that the "horrifying" domestic extremism displayed during the violence at the U.S. Capitol impacted him personally.

"My father and mother brought me to this country to escape communism and to provide me with the security, opportunity, and pride that American citizenship brings to each of us," he told the committee, referring to his Cuban-Jewish father and Holocaust survivor mother who fled Cuba in the 1940s amid the Cuban Revolution. "The love for this country that I learned from my parents made the January 6 attack on the Capitol all the more horrifying. We still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led up to the insurrection. 

"If I should have the honor of being confirmed, I will do everything I can 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," Mayorkas continued.

Director of National Intelligence-nominee Avril Haines told her hearing, occurring simultaneously as Mayorkas', that the intelligence community "will have an important role in supporting" efforts to root out domestic extremists and their foreign supporters. She added that there will be a public, written assessment compiled alongside the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the threat posed by the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Haines also said she will provide Congress with an unclassified report on the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This is the latest indication from the incoming administration that they will adopt a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia than the Trump administration.

During his tenure as deputy secretary of homeland security from 2014 to 2016, Mayorkas worked closely with several Jewish organizations and spoke frequently about the specific threats facing American Jews. Mayorkas played a crucial role in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which allocates funds to nonprofit organizations facing terror threats.

Jewish organizations spent the past several days publicly voicing support for Mayorkas ahead of his hearing. 

Avril Haines during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Washington, D.C., January 19, 2021.Credit: JOE RAEDLE - AFP

The Orthodox Union took the rare step of lauding Mayorkas prior to his hearing, specifically concerning his commitment to securing Jewish institutions during his time in the Obama administration. The ADL called Mayorkas "extremely well-qualified" while praising his "judgement, keen intellect and compassion." Greenblatt noted how important a swift confirmation process is in the wake of domestic terror threats, including the recent violence at the U.S. Capitol. The American Jewish Congress similarly called Mayorkas "supremely qualified" and prepared to serve on day one, also relaying the urgency of his appointment.

He is also a board member of HIAS, the Jewish immigration advocacy group. “Ali has consistently demonstrated that he is not only a strong and highly respected leader, but an empathetic one who knows the heart of the stranger, as the child of a Holocaust survivor, as a Latino, and as a refugee and immigrant himself,” HIAS President Mark Hetfield previously said about Mayorkas.

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