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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House panel approves impeachment charges against Mayorkas

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) before a House Homeland Security Committee meeting to vote on impeachment charges for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 30, 2024. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Karoun Demirjian

The House Homeland Security Committee approved two articles of impeachment early Wednesday against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, over his handling of the southwestern border, as Republicans raced forward with a partisan indictment of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

In an 18-15 party-line vote, the panel endorsed a resolution charging Mayorkas with refusing to uphold the law and breaching the public trust by failing to choke off a surge of migrants across the United States border with Mexico.

It set the stage for a House vote as soon as next week on an impeachment that would be an extraordinary escalation of a political feud between Republicans and Democrats over immigration, further elevating the issue at the start of an election year in which it is expected to be a main focus.

The GOP was plowing forward without producing evidence that Mayorkas committed a crime or acts of corruption, arguing instead that the Biden administration border policies he implemented ran afoul of the law. Legal scholars, including prominent conservatives, have argued that the effort is a perversion of the constitutional power of impeachment, and Democrats remained solidly opposed.

If impeached, Mayorkas would become only the second Cabinet secretary to be indicted by the House of Representatives in U.S. history, and the first in nearly 150 years.

The charges would be all but certain to collapse in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds majority would be required to convict and remove Mayorkas. But they would force an election-year trial that would fuel what promises to be a charged political debate this year over how to handle a surge of migration into the United States, and who should be blamed for what both parties’ leaders now consider an immigration crisis.

An all-day meeting of the Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday that dragged into the wee hours of Wednesday offered a glimpse of the bitter tenor of that fight. Republicans laid out their case against the secretary, and Democrats used every tool at their disposal to halt the impeachment or amend the charges, failing repeatedly on a series of party-line votes.

Republicans contend that the Biden administration’s policies — and Mayorkas’ decisions in particular — have attracted waves of migrants to the country and admitted individuals who could pose a danger to national security.

“Secretary Mayorkas has put his political preferences above following the law,” Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., chair of the panel, said at the start of Tuesday’s session. He added that the results of Mayorkas’ border policies “have been catastrophic and have endangered the lives and livelihoods of all Americans.”

Democrats counter that the Biden administration has grappled with record-setting waves of migrants to the best of its ability, given the limited resources that Congress has been willing to devote to addressing the challenges.

Biden has even pledged to engineer a turnaround if Congress passes a bipartisan deal to clamp down on asylum claims, expand the capacity of detention facilities and set limits on the number of migrants who could be let into the country. But while Senate negotiators are hoping to finalize such a plan this week, former President Donald Trump is working to kill it, and House Republicans have said they will never accept it.

“Neither of the impeachment charges the committee will consider today are a high crime or misdemeanor,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the panel’s most senior Democrat. He added that House Republicans “don’t want progress. They don’t want solutions. They want a political issue.”

GOP leaders, whose House majority has shrunk to only the barest of margins, will need near-unanimous support to impeach Mayorkas in the full chamber. They believe they can reach that level despite some lingering skepticism in their ranks about whether impeachment is warranted.

“I’m a ‘lean no’ at this point,” Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said in an interview Tuesday, adding that he feared that impeaching Mayorkas would damage Congress institutionally and be “moving in the wrong direction.”

Buck was one of eight GOP holdouts when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and a member of the panel, tried to force a snap impeachment of Mayorkas in the House in November. Some from that group, such as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have since committed to support the effort to impeach Mayorkas, while others, such as Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said Tuesday that they were still withholding judgment.

Republicans accuse Mayorkas of violating provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that mandate that migrants who otherwise are not admissible to the United States “shall be detained” pending their removal, or a decision about their claims to asylum.

“Instead of complying with this requirement, Alejandro N. Mayorkas has implemented a catch-and-release scheme, whereby such aliens are unlawfully released,” the oneimpeachment article reads.

It also charges Mayorkas with having failed to take every migrant deportable on criminal or terrorism grounds into custody, and with having “willfully exceeded his parole authority” under the law to let large categories of migrants into the country. Those include Ukrainians and Afghans fleeing war and Venezuelans, Haitians and others fleeing economically ravaged countries.

But immigration laws grant the president and his administration broad powers to handle the border as they see fit.

For instance, the same law Republicans cited in one of the impeachment articles also gives the administration latitude to let individuals into the country temporarily for humanitarian reasons or for the public benefit on a case-by-case basis — with no further limitations on how widely it can be applied. Such parole powers have existed since the 1950s, and several administrations — including those of former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush — have used them to allow large numbers of migrants to live and work in the United States temporarily.

A second impeachment article charges Mayorkas with obstructing the GOP’s investigation, and having “knowingly made false statements” about the state of security at the southern border with Mexico. That is a reference to testimony Mayorkas gave to Congress in 2022 that his department had “operational control” of the border. Republicans have argued that this was demonstrably false under the 2006 Secure Fences Act, which defines the term as the absence of any unlawful crossings of migrants or drugs.

Mayorkas has said he was employing the far lower standard of “operational control” used by the Border Patrol, which defines the term as “the ability to detect, respond and interdict border penetrations in areas deemed as high priority.”

In a letter to the panel Tuesday, Mayorkas, whom Republicans did not allow to testify publicly in his own defense after scheduling disputes, forcefully contested the charges.

“You claim that we have failed to enforce our immigration laws,” Mayorkas wrote. “That is false.” He said Republicans’ allegation that he obstructed their inquiries was “baseless and inaccurate.”

Democrats have argued that Republicans are impeaching Mayorkas as part of a strategy to keep the border in chaos so Trump, who is once again marching toward the GOP presidential nomination, can capitalize on public dissatisfaction and campaign on a pledge to fix it.

Republicans maintain that the Constitution offers ample latitude to impeach an official over what, in this instance, they call his “ill behavior” toward the law.

“His refusal to obey the law is not only an offense against the separation of powers in the Constitution of the United States,” one impeachment article says. “It also threatens our national security and has had a dire impact on communities across the country.”

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