USCIS Chief-Designate Appears to Be East Coast Version of Mayorkas

The man destined to replace Alejandro Mayorkas (now deputy secretary of DHS) as head of USCIS might be regarded as an East Coast version of his predecessor.

Leon Rodriguez, currently director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, has been nominated by the president to succeed Mayorkas in the main USCIS job; no date has been set yet for his confirmation hearing.

The parallels between the two men are almost eerie: both are of Cuban descent, both are lawyers, and both are Democrats who held political appointments prior to coming to USCIS. But that’s not all: both are fluent in Spanish, both went to Catholic law schools (Loyola for Mayorkas, Boston College for Rodriguez), both served as assistant U.S. attorneys, and both have strong political connections (Democratic), but neither’s resume indicates a try for electoral office and neither, before coming to USCIS, had much to do with immigration.

Mayorkas, at 54, appears to be a couple of years older than Rodriquez. Were they involved in a sibling rivalry, Rodriquez would point out that he went to an Ivy League school (Brown) as Mayorkas did not, and that Rodriguez’ resume mentions fluent French, which his predecessor’s does not. Mayorkas, however, could claim that he had a presidential appointment (as U.S. attorney for Central California) more than a decade before Rodriquez got one.

Interestingly, while Mayorkas’ Cuban connection is all over his published government biography, and frequently mentioned in his own speeches, Rodriguez’s Cuban ties are not. They pop up, however, in an earlier health policy publication.

Rodriquez, if confirmed, would be the fourth consecutive Cuban-American to hold the job. The first two, under the George W. Bush administration, were Eduardo Aguirre and Emilio Gonzalez, both of them, like Mayorkas, were born in Cuba. Rodriguez was born to then-recent Cuban emigrants in Brooklyn. I have not seen this reported by the media.

After serving as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn (that’s a state, not a federal position), Rodriquez moved to the U.S. attorney’s staff in Pittsburgh, winding up as the first assistant there. He also was in private practice, and from 2007 through 2010 he was the County Attorney for Montgomery County, Md., a Democratic stronghold. He held political positions in the Obama Justice and DHHS departments before his current nomination.

According to reporting by Kenric Ward, Washington correspondent for, Rodriguez’ nomination faces Republican opposition for this position, as it did three years earlier when Obama nominated him to be head of the Wage-Hour Administration in the Labor Department, only to withdraw the nomination later.

In the interim, since Mayorkas was confirmed as DHD deputy secretary, the acting head of USCIS has been Lori Scialabba, the agency’s deputy director, and a career government attorney.

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