Orthodox Union Praises Biden's Homeland Security Chief Nomination in Rare Move

The Jewish organization lauded Alejandro Mayorkas' work as deputy secretary homeland security during the Obama administration in protecting Jewish institutions from antisemitic attacks

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be director of Homeland Security, speaks at Biden's transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 24, 2020.
Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be director of Homeland Security, speaks at Biden's transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 24, 2020. Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/ REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The Orthodox Union on Monday publicly lauded Homeland Security Secretary-designate Alejandro Mayorkas one day before his confirmation hearing. This is an unusual move from the organization, which very rarely comments on nominees before confirmation processes.

In a letter written to Senators Gary Peters and Rob Portman – the bipartisan ranking members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security – as well as committee's other members, the OU Advocacy Center cited Mayorkas' previous experience in protecting Jewish institutions amid the dramatic rise in antisemitic attacks in his role as deputy secretary of homeland security from 2014 to 2016.

"Based on our past experience with him, we are confident that, if confirmed to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas will lead this aspect of the department’s work effectively and for the welfare of the people of the United States of America," Orthodox Union Executive Director Nathan Diament and Chairman Jerry Wolasky wrote.

"During his tenure as Deputy Secretary of DHS during the Obama Administration, Mr. Mayorkas was a reliable and valued leader in ensuring that DHS’s resources were utilized to enhance the security of our synagogues and schools in the face of threats and that all relevant DHS components had combatting faith-targeted violence, including antisemitism, as an intentional part of DHS’s work," the letter stated.

The union praised Mayorkas' role in the implementation of the department's Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which allocates funds to nonprofit organizations at risk of terrorist threats. Funding was doubled for the program this year to the tune of $180 million, as part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus bill packaged with the COVID-19 stimulus.

The Orthodox Union, the letter said, was one of the groups that worked with Congress to create the program, which "provides critical grants to thousands of Jewish synagogues and K-12 schools and thousands of houses of worship and nonprofits of other faith communities deemed to be at risk of violent attack."

The letter continued, "Then-Deputy Secretary Mayorkas was very supportive in the effective implementation of the [grant program] and other work by DHS to keep our communities secure. The need for DHS to increase its work in combating violent extremism and thwarting violence targeted and the Jewish community, and other American faith communities, is even more pressing in 2021."

Mayorkas was born to a Cuban Jewish father and Romanian Jewish mother, who is a Holocaust survivor.

As deputy secretary, he worked closely with Jewish groups beyond the Orthodox Union and spoke frequently about the specific threats facing American Jews. He is also a board member of HIAS, the Jewish immigration advocacy group.

In 2016, Mayorkas told the Orthodox Union's annual conference in Washington that “the need is most acute in the Jewish community because of the ascension of antisemitism and hate crimes we see,” adding that the threat to his community is "among the things that keep me up at night."

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