Alejandro Mayorkas, seventh secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, engaged in a compelling keynote conversation about the most significant immigration questions of the day.
The keynote conversation was a part of the Fordham Law Review’s spring symposium on March 9, which focused on the impact of the Study Group on Immigrant Representation, which was initiated by the late Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Two years since his appointment, Mayorkas emphasized the DHS’s successes, despite strong headwinds. “When we stepped in, hundreds and hundreds of families had been separated, and records were not maintained to equip us to repair the damage that had been done,” said Mayorkas. “Temporary Protected Status, TPS, was under assault, the DACA program was on life support. We’ve now reunited more than 600 families through our task force, and that work continues.”
Secretary Mayorkas was interviewed by Law Professor Ahilan Arulanantham, who is the faculty co-director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. He began by describing the secretary as “extraordinarily … communicative and transparent” in sharing his thinking on immigration policy matters. While applauding Mayorkas’s decision to end family detention practices soon after taking office, Arulanantham challenged Mayorkas throughout the interview on a number of key issues, including family separation, conditions of confinement, immigration cases being transferred out of state, a lack of legal representation for children facing deportation, and accountability for mistakes and violations.
As the third largest department in the federal government, with more than 260,000 employees, when mistakes are made by DHS, they should be addressed, Mayorkas said.
“I think it is very important to understand that we define ourselves by our policies,” said Mayorkas. “We define ourselves by the values that underlie those policies, by individuals’ adherence to those policies with rigor, and the manner in which we address the failure to adhere to those policies—especially, if that failure is actually a failure of intent, as opposed to a failure of accident, and that distinction is very important.”
Mayorkas, an immigrant himself, noted that he had “the honor” of working with Judge Katzmann in the past while presiding over naturalization ceremonies in New York. “To participate in a symposium that is named after Judge Katzmann is a privilege,” Mayorkas said.