(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, one of four Latino cabinet members in President Joe Biden’s administration, said on Tuesday he wanted to end raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at workplaces.
“The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country’s unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers,” Mayorkas wrote in a memo obtained by ABC News. “These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations.”
Such a change from what was seen under the previous administration is something that policy experts, including Sylvia Puente, president and CEO of Latino Policy Forum, have said may result from Biden having surrounded himself with a more representative cabinet.
Mayorkas has been joined by Secretary Xavier Becerra of Health and Human Services, Secretary Miguel Cardona of the Department of Education and Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman of the Small Business Administration.
“It was about time — the increase in representation that looks like us in the White House, and cabinet levels in Congress, really allows us not to be invisible,” Puente told ABC News. “It really allows us to take our place in our American society.”
Becerra, who made history as the first Latino to lead HHS, discussed with ABC News the importance of representation for all Americans.
“There’s a pride that comes in understanding what you bring to the table, of what your parents taught you and what your forefathers and foremothers did for this country,” Becerra said. “I’m very proud that I bring that to my country. And that’s the heritage that has made the fabric of our country so strong.”
Becerra is the first person in his family to get a four-year college degree, after his parents emigrated from Mexico at a young age. Ultimately, he added, his opportunities have allowed him to help provide opportunities for others.
“It’s about helping people like my dad, who didn’t get past sixth grade, who worked with his hands all his life as a construction worker, a farm worker, so that he could actually have a better [life], at least for his kids,” Becerra said.
“Given that we have this historic number of cabinet officials who are Latino,” Puente said, “it really feels like the administration is living up its profit promise to have equity, to have diversity and to have inclusion.”
Puente said she hopes to see it continue, and not “just in Hispanic Heritage Month,” which spans Sept. 14 to Oct. 15. It’s important for Latinx and Hispanic individuals “to be a part of this ongoing dialogue.”
Barack Obama had a total of six Latino cabinet members.
Cardona said during a GMA3 interview on Sept. 15 that he hopes to improve access to higher education.
“We want access to higher education for Latino students at the same rate as other students — we want to make sure completion happens,” Cardona said.
While Latinos account for 18.7% of the U.S. population, according to Census data, only 16.4% complete a four-year degree.
“We also want to make sure at the pre-K level that Latino students have access to early childhood education that serves as a foundation,” Cardona added.
The dropout rate among Latino students, according to a 2019 fact sheet from the National Center for Education Statistics, is about 7.7%, which has declined in recent years but still trails Black (5.6%), white (4.1%) and Asian (1.8%) students.
In August, more than 200,000 migrants were encountered crossing the southern border, according to DHS data.
“People really want to come to the U.S. because they feel they can’t make a living in their homeland, or they can’t stay safe in their homeland, or they’re afraid of being murdered in their home,” Puente told ABC News.
After reports of U.S. border patrol agents acting aggressively towards Haitian migrants fleeing their country amid multiple crises, DHS launched an investigation and alerted the department’s Office of Inspector General. Biden condemned the agents’ actions by saying those who confronted the Haitian migrants aggressively “will pay.”
Puente is among those hoping Biden’s words can lead to larger reforms.
“We certainly expect immigration reform,” she added. “We expect the president and vice president to not only continue to elevate the issue, but to really work with Congress. There are so many pieces of immigration that need to be unpacked.”
Late last month, Mayorkas announced the formation of the Law Enforcement Coordination Council, an effort to “institutionalize best practices in law enforcement.”
Mayorkas intends to chair the LECC, the first department-wide body to serve as a governing organization for agencies including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We are bringing a greater, in my opinion, a greater degree of organization, cohesion to [law enforcement policies],” Mayorkas told ABC News at the time.
Biden has said on multiple occasions he will be a leader for all Americans, and organizations and his cabinet members have said they’ll do what they can to help him keep that promise.
“As secretary, I’m going to make sure that when the president says ‘everyone,’ it includes everyone,” Becerra told ABC News. “We’re not going to leave anyone out. I don’t care what corner of the country you’re from, if you exist in the shadows, we’re going to service you. We believe in the people who lift up this country.”
ABC News’ Luke Barr contributed to this report.
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