Since his campaign, President Joe Biden has vowed to make inclusivity and human rights the backbone of his presidency, and he is making major moves. His campaign strongly emphasized his ultimate presidential goal of uniting a broken country whose minorities had faced its collateral damage.
Biden has said that a goal for his administration is for the Oval Office to look “like America,” a call for diversity in key positions. Vice President Kamala Harris leads his crusade for equality— she is the first female to hold the executive office, and is of South Asian and Black descent. Biden making diversity a top priority is historic, and it has never been executed to the fullest extent.
His Cabinet appointments come with several ‘firsts’ in a presidential administration. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse are all the first Black appointees for their positions. Along with them, Biden selected Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Beccara, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who are all the first Latinos to lead their departments—to name a few.
Biden’s Cabinet also included historic representation for the LGBTQ+ community. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana became the first openly gay man to serve as secretary of transportation. Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health and human services, and Shawn Skelly, a member of the department of defense transition team, are both transgender women. Dr. Levine is the first transgender woman ever to hold a Cabinet position. Biden’s administration will, in fact, have the most diverse Cabinet in American history.
One particular fascination comes with Biden’s appointed Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Mayorkas is an immigrant himself, born in Cuba, who helped orchestrate DACA, the program that protects immigrant children from facing deportation. He previously served as a federal prosecutor in California and identifies as a “political refugee.”
For years, immigrants to America had been at the mercy of strict immigration policies and border security enhanced with xenophobic rhetoric. Mayorkas’ significant presence as the first Latino & immigrant Homeland Security secretary breeds such a stark contrast to the Trump administration’s immigration policy that proposed strict asylum and refugee rules and a president who so infamously said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.. they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re racists.. and some, I assume, are good people.” Trump also hinted that these types of immigrants may also be coming in from all over South and Latin America and the Middle East.
Mayorkas’ story as an immigrant will fuel Biden’s goals of reforming immigration by giving a voice to immigrant families around the country who have been further marginalized due to harmful anti-immigration rhetoric. His selection of Alejandro Mayorkas makes immigration reform a real priority in his presidency, sending a positive message to immigrant families across the nation.
Early on in his presidency, Trump signed the highly controversial executive order infamously known as the “Muslim ban.” The ruling greatly lowered the number of refugees let into the country, suspended refugee programs and indefinitely denied Syrian immigrants. According to the State Department, 60,000 visas were “provisionally revoked” (denied). The Department of Homeland Security focused on seven countries, all nations in the Middle East that practice Islam. Minutes after his Inauguration, Joe Biden signed an executive order to overturn the ban, sending yet another positive message to immigrants that they are more than welcome, and are the backbone of our country.
By his first day in office, Biden signed a record 17 executive orders, many that were intended to act as a counterforce to the previous administration’s effort of exclusivity.
LGBTQ+ Americans, specifically transgender Americans, have had a complicated history with serving in the armed forces. Since the 1960s, public officials have made many efforts to stop transgender personnel from serving. Briefly after Trump took office in January 2017, the public learned that the DOD stopped enforcing the rule that protected transgender youth from discrimination in military academies.
Shortly after in April, President Trump nominated Mark Green as his army secretary. Green, at a 2016 Chattanooga Tea Party once said, “if you poll the psychiatrists, they’re going to tell you that transgender is a disease.” Fortunately, Green declined the position. Four years later on Jan. 25, 2021, Biden signed an executive order to repeal the ban, thus restoring the right to serve for the transgender community.
With only a month in, more is to come with the Biden administration, especially in the realm of social justice and human rights. VALLEY will be here every step of the way!