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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House Republicans impeach Mayorkas for border policies



Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, walks to a hearing room at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Nov. 15, 2023. Mayorkas was impeached by House Republicans on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Karoun Demirjian


The U.S. House of Representatives voted narrowly on Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a precedent-shattering vote that charged him with willfully refusing to enforce border laws and breaching the public trust.


In a 214-213 vote, Republicans barreled past the solid opposition of Democrats and reservations in their own ranks to make Mayorkas the first sitting Cabinet secretary in U.S. history to be impeached.


It amounted to a partisan indictment of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies by the GOP, which is seeking to use a surge in migration across the United States border with Mexico during his tenure as a political weapon against him and Democrats in this year’s elections.


Biden condemned the House’s vote in a statement Tuesday night.


“History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games,” he said.


The vote came a week after the House rejected the charges against Mayorkas when Republicans, who control the House by a razor-thin margin, tried and failed to muster a majority to approve them.


It put Mayorkas in the company of past presidents and administration officials who have been impeached on allegations of personal corruption and other wrongdoing.


But the charges against him broke with history by failing to identify any such offense, instead effectively declaring the policy choices Mayorkas has carried out a constitutional crime. The approach threatened to lower the bar for impeachments — which already has fallen in recent years — reducing what was once Congress’ most potent tool to remove despots from power to a weapon to be deployed in political fights.


Democrats, former secretaries of homeland security, the country’s largest police union and a chorus of constitutional law experts — including conservatives — have denounced the impeachment as a blatant attempt to resolve a policy dispute with a constitutional punishment. They said Republicans had presented no evidence that Mayorkas’ conduct rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.


The charges against Mayorkas are expected to be rejected in the Democratic-led Senate, where conviction would require a two-thirds majority and where even some Republicans have called the effort dead on arrival. The House is expected to deliver the impeachment articles to the Senate in the last week of February, according to the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, and senators would be sworn in as jurors the next day.


“The one and only reason for this impeachment is for Speaker Johnson to further appease Donald Trump,” Schumer said in a statement, adding that House Republicans “failed to present any evidence of anything resembling an impeachable offense.”


But House Republicans insisted that Mayorkas had failed to carry out his duties under the Constitution, and they defended the impeachment as necessary.


“Congress has taken decisive action to defend our constitutional order and hold accountable a public official who has violated his oath of office,” Rep. Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, which prepared the charges against Mayorkas, said in a statement. The proceedings, he added, “demonstrated beyond any doubt that Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and systemically refused to comply with the laws of the United States, and breached the public trust.”


Three Republicans — Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Tom McClintock of California — lined up with Democrats against the charges. They warned that impeaching a Cabinet secretary for the way he did his job would weaken a weighty constitutional penalty and do nothing to address serious immigration issues.


“We have to stop using these impeachments — if you have policy differences, we have other tools,” Buck said in an interview following the vote, adding that impeachment had “become a partisan game that, when it comes to constitutional interpretation, really should be above this.”


In approving the charges, the House also appointed 11 Republicans to serve as impeachment managers, including Green and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the right-wing lawmaker who has led the charge against Mayorkas.


Green’s panel produced a report in which they said of the Cuban-born secretary that they were “deporting Secretary Mayorkas from his position.”


The first of the two charges approved Tuesday accuses Mayorkas of replacing Trump-era policies, such as the program commonly called Remain in Mexico, which required many migrants to wait at the southwestern border for their court dates, with “catch and release” policies that allowed migrants to roam free in the United States. Republicans charge that Mayorkas ignored multiple mandates of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that migrants “shall be detained” pending decisions on asylum and removal orders, and acted beyond his authority to parole migrants into the country.


Democrats have pushed back forcefully, noting that Mayorkas, like any homeland security secretary, has the right to set policies to manage the waves of migrants arriving at the border. That includes allowing certain migrants into the country temporarily on humanitarian grounds and prioritizing which migrants to detain, particularly when working with limited resources.


The second article accuses Mayorkas of breaching the public trust by misrepresenting the state of the border and stymieing congressional efforts to investigate him. Republicans base those accusations on an assertion by Mayorkas in 2022 that his department had “operational control” over the border, which is defined under a 2006 statute as the absence of any unlawful crossings of migrants or drugs. Mayorkas has said he was referring instead to a less absolute definition used by the Border Patrol.


They also accuse Mayorkas of having failed to produce documents, including materials he was ordered to give them under subpoena, during an investigation into his border policies and evading their efforts to get him to testify as part of their impeachment proceedings. Administration officials have countered that Mayorkas has produced tens of thousands of pages of documents in accordance with the panel’s requests. He offered to testify in person, but Republicans on the panel rescinded their invitation for him to appear after the two sides encountered scheduling problems.


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