WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Wednesday began efforts to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas amid partisan debates over the U.S.-Mexico border conflict.
The House Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), led the first meeting on the matter, inviting three state attorneys general who are all suing Mayorkas to testify.
The hearing comes after months of failed attempts by House Republicans to oust Mayorkas from office, dating back to November 2022. Key Republican lawmakers cite the secretary’s lax stance on immigration as rationale for his impeachment.
“The secretary’s actions have brought us here today, not ours,” said Green in the hearing. “Secretary Mayorkas is the architect of the devastation we have witnessed for nearly three years.”
Serving as appointed witnesses were Republican Attorneys General Austin Knudsen, Gentner Drummond and Andrew Bailey of Montana, Oklahoma and Missouri, respectively. All three witnesses testified to the problems of immigration influxes on fentanyl and other drug trafficking in their home states.
“Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden administration have absolutely poured gasoline on this fire,” said Knudsen, adding that Mayorkas “must be held accountable” for his actions.
It’s not clear that Republicans will have the votes for the latest efforts. Impeachment will require a majority of the House to vote for the measure. It may be followed by a Senate trial, which requires two-thirds vote to convict for removal from office. Only one Cabinet secretary has ever been impeached: William Belknap, secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant, who was found not guilty in 1876.
Legal experts denounced any legitimacy to House Republicans’ impeachment proceedings. Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri School of Law professor who was called by Democrats, told House members that the political stalemate over border security can be attributed to “policy differences” alone, a dispute that is “simply not grounds for impeachment.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) called the move a “political stunt.”
“This is a diminution, a subversion and a destruction of the Constitution,” said Jackson Lee.
Further solidifying the partisan divide, Democratic White House aides have rallied behind Mayorkas, accusing Republicans of “playing politics instead of working on real solutions,” Politico reported, citing a memo released Tuesday.
“Impeaching Secretary Mayorkas will do nothing to help the American people or address the challenges at our border,” said the secretary’s supporters in a list of expanded talking points. “It only makes it harder to fix the real problem: our broken immigration system.”
Ernesto Castañeda, director of American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, referred to the hearing as “theatrics,” pointing to a long history of Republican-backed efforts to politicize debates surrounding immigration and national security.
“For many politicians, it’s just inertia,” Castañeda said. “[Immigration] is a topic that’s always been seen as complex and polarized. Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon.”
Castañeda disputed the statistics on migrant arrivals presented in the hearing, attributing what Republicans claimed to be a rise in illegal border crossings from the Trump to Biden administrations to a bottleneck effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – a demographic shift the Homeland Security Committee did not acknowledge.
Castañeda said he does not believe the hearing will have any impact on either Mayorkas’ retaining his role as secretary or on constituents voting on candidates’ immigration policies in upcoming primaries.
“I think most people in the center will be able to tell this is more for political reasons than anything substantial about Mayorkas,” said Castañeda.
Mayorkas has been invited to testify at a second impeachment hearing planned for Jan. 18, but he has not yet confirmed attendance, according to a congressional aide who spoke to Reuters.
As the committee considers its next steps, ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) criticized his delegation for putting feelings of personal animosity above the possibility of reaching a bipartisan agreement over national security.
“You cannot impeach a Cabinet secretary because you don’t like a president’s policies,” said Thompson. “The facts show Secretary Mayorkas is doing his job.”